A convoy of vehicles lapped the Washington, D.C., beltway Sunday morning to demand an end to COVID-19 mandates and restrictions.
The protests come at a time when many pandemic-related mandates and restrictions — imposed by state and local governments rather than lawmakers in Washington — have already begun being lifted in much of the country.
The group — which included dozens of vehicles, including some eighteen-wheelers, according to footage from CNN affiliate WUSA — planned to drive at least two loops around the beltway before returning to Hagerstown, Maryland, Maureen Steele, an organizer with the “People’s Convoy” told CNN. They did not plan to enter the city proper.
Footage showed trucks and their drivers, led by a police escort, honking at onlookers gathered on an overpass to cheer the vehicles as they drove by.
The convoy, one of several bound for the District of Columbia this weekend, is following the lead of the Canadian trucker protests that began in late January and continued for weeks as demonstrators protested COVID-19 mandates, crippling U.S. border crossings and the capital of Ottawa.
Organizers of the American convoys, however, have signaled they intend to keep their demonstrations under control.
The “People’s Convoy” organizers previously said the group had no plan to mimic the Canadian protests with blockades or clashes with authorities. While they do want to be noticed, Steele said her group coordinated its demonstration with local law enforcement to prevent any conflicts.
That, however, was just for Sunday. The Washington Post reported organizers plan to repeat the action until their demands are addressed. And there are other convoy groups that have indicated they plan to demonstrate in or near D.C., though it remains unclear exactly how many groups, people or vehicles will be participating.
Washington County, Maryland, Sheriff Doug Mullendore told CNN Saturday his agency had had no issues with the convoys so far.
“There are at least four convoys that have converged in Hagerstown and are staying at the Hagerstown Speedway,” he said. “There have been no problems and we are just monitoring things. We are working closely with the Maryland State Police.”
Mullendore added, “They have been very respectful and have caused no problems here.”
Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller confirmed the agency had “been in contact with various groups’ organizers to ensure their understanding of Virginia traffic laws.” Law enforcement’s goal, she said, was to “mitigate the impact of additional traffic volume on already congested roadways and Northern Virginia communities.”
The common demand emanating from each of the groups is the end of Covid-19 mandates, including mask and vaccine requirements.
In a news release, the “People’s Convoy” pointed to declining COVID-19 cases, vaccines and therapeutics, saying it was “time to reopen the country.”
“To that end, it’s time for elected officials to work with the blue-collar and white-collar workers of America and restore accountability and liberty by lifting all mandates and ending the state of emergency — as COVID is well-in-hand now, and Americans need to get back to work in a free and unrestricted manner,” the release said.
Many cities and states have already started lifting such measures while COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases drop, including New York state, which lifted this week most mask mandates and requirements to show proof of vaccination for indoor activities.
A growing number of states — the majority of which have Democratic governors — announced in recent weeks they would lift indoor or school mask mandates, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island.
Under new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, more than 70% of the country’s population is in a location with low or medium COVID-19 levels, meaning masking is not necessary unless an individual is at increased risk of COVID-19. If so, the CDC recommends talking to your health care provider about wearing a mask. But mandates are also being lifted in places with “high” levels of COVID-19, like California and Illinois.