CHICAGO—A 32-year-old resident of Chicago, Mike Smith, supported lockdowns in his city of in the spring, but he’s had a change of heart.
He’s an avid Democrat, a Bernie Sanders supporter, but he chanted “Open Illinois!” alongside Republicans as he participated in his first rally against lockdowns on Dec. 5 in downtown Chicago. He asked to be called by the pseudonym Mike Smith.
Opinion polls have shown a partisan difference in how Americans view COVID-19 risks and measures. Republicans have generally been more opposed to lockdowns—but Democrats are increasingly joining the call against them as well.
“We’ve kind of gone into these tribal camps … [and] there are a lot of different narratives people fall into on both sides,” Smith told The Epoch Times.
“But I don’t think we should be doing this politically. What we want is to understand what the actual situation is, and politics just completely destroyed our ability to do that.”
In the spring, 91 percent of Democrats were in favor of lockdowns compared to 87 percent this fall, according to a November Gallup poll. Though support has dropped among Democrats, it has dropped even more among Republicans (74 percent in the spring compared to 40 percent now).
In November, about 30 states reported sharp increases in COVID-19 cases, including Illinois, where Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a new set of restrictions. Museums and indoor dining were among the closures.
Smith, a chemical engineer, said he decided to look into the data himself.
He found the fatality rate lower than he thought. It is currently about 0.6 percent in the United States, according to Reuters. Smith noted that among deaths reported as COVID-19-related, many occur along with preexisting conditions. He also saw that many of those deaths are among the elderly and people with comorbidity.
Instead of a statewide lockdown, he said, it would be better to isolate vulnerable people and allow the rest more freedom.
“I began to realize, oh my gosh, we are going about this all wrong. Hysteria has completely taken over,” Smith said.
“If people are scared, they’re more likely to turn on the news, and then that rewards the news for scaring them. … Once we get scared, we can overreact if we don’t understand what all this data is really showing.”
His roommate, a massage therapist, went without any income for months and fell behind on her medical bills and loan payments. “How is she ever going to get out of this?” he said.
He also noted other harmful impacts of lockdowns, such as mental stress and drug overdose.
“These are going to have huge repercussions in the future for a lot of people,” he said.
Smith shared his new understanding with many of his left-leaning friends, but it was hard. “I have lost what feels like a lot of friends over it,” he said. “I’m in a weird boat where I feel like the left has left me.”
Glen, another liberal Chicagoan, who declined to disclose his last name, also lost friends over his opposition to COVID-19 lockdowns. Among them were three very close friends, he said.
In his social circle, Glen said he’s the only one with a science degree. He’s a nurse at a local hospital.
“[My friends] would dig up news articles about how lockdowns are good. In most cases, these were opinion pieces by journalists who had no education in science,” Glen told The Epoch Times while attending the anti-lockdown rally on Dec. 5. He was wearing a mask that covered all but his eyes, which he said was to protect his identity for fear of losing his job.
“When I countered with actual science journals, statistics, and data, I would just be told that I’m a QAnon conspiracy theorist.
“It caused a lot of internal struggle. All of your friends and all of your family, they are saying, ‘No, no, no, you’re wrong.'” Their opposition drove him to examine the data more closely, and he said the data made him more firm in his position against lockdowns.
Like his liberal friends, Glen used to support lockdowns. In March and April, he was afraid of COVID-19 as much as any of them, he said. But around May is when he started looking more at the data.
“I doubt myself with every number I look at. I try to look at it from every different angle. Because I think, scientifically, that’s what you have to do,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘This isn’t adding up to what our Governor Pritzker is saying.’
“These restrictions aren’t making life better. They’re making life worse. I’m seeing in greater numbers children harmed because of lockdown, not because of COVID; women harmed because they’re quitting jobs to take care of their kids at home; people of color harmed because they lost their jobs.
“People can say you’re one political party or another, but the way you act is a whole [different matter]. And I had to be true to myself, ethically,” Glen said. “My opinions on [COVID-19] are rooted in my concern for everyone else.”