Washington — Convoy groups led by American truckers are making their way toward the nation’s capital to demand an end to all COVID-19 mandates and restrictions.
The protesters, with members coming from at least three individual convoy groups, are expected to arrive in Washington, DC, throughout the upcoming weekend.
The convoys follow the lead of Canadian protesters who in late January spent three weeks demonstrating against COVID-19 mandates, crippling three US border crossings and downtown Ottawa.
Canadian police arrested more than 100 people when the so-called “Freedom Convoy,” turned violent after truckers blocked roads and irritated residents with honking horns.
Other “Freedom Convoys” in Europe, including groups in France and Belgium, resulted in demonstrators blocking traffic and law enforcement responding with tear gas and arrests.
With COVID-19 mandates already dropping around the country in line with falling infection numbers, demonstrators are still showing up with demands.
Here’s what you need to know about them:
Who is participating in the convoy groups?
There are several groups from all over the country participating in the protest, with a few primary convoys including the “People’s Convoy,” who have traveled across the country from California and are expected to arrive Saturday.
The group, which has nearly 300,000 Facebook followers, will include truckers as well as others such as doctors, teachers, and pilots.
Another group, who named themselves the “American Freedom Convoy” and includes members mostly from the Midwest, is also headed to Washington, DC, but are behind and will arrive around March 7.
It is unclear how many people or trucks will be participating in the convoys.
What do the protesters want?
There is one common demand coming from the participating convoys: end COVID-19 mandates, including mask and vaccine requirements.
“The average American worker needs to be able to end-run the economic hardships of the last two years, and get back to the business of making bread,” the People’s Convoy’s said in a news release.
“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.”
Organizers told CNN the protest will be tame and “lawful,” and the group has no plan to mimic Canada with roadblocks, clashes, or other disruptions.
“The People’s Convoy will abide by agreements with local authorities, and terminate in the vicinity of the DC area, but will not be going into DC proper,” the group said.
The People’s Convoy said they are distancing themselves from other groups who may have other, less peaceful plans.
Participating convoy “American Freedom Convoy” told CNN they have no intention of being violent, but insinuated it could happen if law enforcement “sends troops to prevent the protests.”
Law enforcement officials prepare for possible disruptions
Virginia State Police issued a traffic advisory for Virginia throughout the weekend, warning drivers to prepare for “potential commercial and passenger vehicle convoys affecting traffic in and around the National Capital Region.”
“Virginia State Police respects the public’s First Amendment rights and has been in contact with various groups’ organizers to ensure their understanding of Virginia’s traffic laws,” police said.
Maryland State Police are also monitoring the situation and planning to position additional troopers to “address any violations of law” and help move traffic.
“Agencies will allocate personnel and additional resources based upon analysis of the situation to ensure safety on our roadways and minimize potential traffic disruptions throughout the region,” police said in a statement obtained by CNN affiliate WJLA.
The DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency sent out a message Thursday to local businesses and faith-based community partners warning them of interruptions due to the protests.
“As a result, vehicle traffic may be affected, and businesses and other organizations could experience delays in incoming and outgoing deliveries as well as employee access during this time,” “Please use caution if driving in impacted areas and expect delays in reaching your destination. If possible, delay traveling through these areas or consider using Metrorail.”
Police may close certain road to “minimize the impacts of these demonstrations” and will provide updates when they come.
COVID-19 rules are being lifted as case numbers drop
As the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations slowly falls, cities and states are loosening vaccine and mask requirements.
COVID-19 hospitalizations are lower than they’ve been for most of the past year, with the US is now averaging 55,701 new COVID-19 cases per day, according to Johns Hopkins University, a 26% drop since last week and the lowest cases have been since late July.
There are 41,014 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, a 23% drop from last week. Current hospitalizations are now about a quarter of what they were at the peak in mid-January and lower than they’ve been for most of the past year.
Because of the drop in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, mask mandates and vaccine passport rules have been dropping around the country in the past days and week, as local officials have shifted their rules in line with falling COVID numbers.
Most recently in New York, the state has lifted most mask mandates and requirements to show proof of vaccination for indoor activities.
A growing number of states — the majority with Democratic governors — have announced in recent weeks they would lift their indoor or school mask mandates, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island.
According to the new CDC guidance, more than 70% of the population is in a location with low or medium COVID-19 levels. In those areas, masking is not necessary unless an individual is at “increased risk” for COVID-19 and if so, the CDC recommends talking to your health care provider about wearing a mask.
Even in certain counties with “high” levels of COVID-19, such as in states like California, Illinois, Oregon, and Washington, mask mandates are being lifted.
Under updates to CDC guidance, people in counties with low or medium COVID-19 community levels no longer need to wear masks indoors unless they are immunocompromised or at “high risk” for severe COVID-19 and if so, the CDC recommends to talk to their health care provider about wearing a mask.