In response to her stance against public health orders and her campaign events that do not follow social distancing recommendations, Colorado congressional candidate Lauren Boebert is being called a COVID-backlash candidate. And she’s embracing the label, calling it “Trump-esque,” in a good way.

But a Colorado public health expert says Boebert’s response to COVID is “stoking mistrust” of public health workers, who should be considered “heroes” for “grinding it out, trying to help their communities get through this pandemic.”

“The worst of it is stoking mistrust of public health authorities, who are just doing their best to try to come to grips with a pandemic,” says Matthew Wynia, a Professor of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, referring to Boebert’s response to COVID-19. “The people in public health departments around the state and around the country are suffering terribly right now. They are working enormous long hours at little pay with no glory. They are getting threatened by people now from campaigns like hers, her supporters, who are calling them Nazis. And that’s the worst of it. These are heroes, who are grinding it out, trying to help their communities get through this pandemic.”

“She may not like the rules,” said Wynia. “But we have ways to change the rules, right? That’s what makes us a democracy, is that we actually have ways to say, ‘I disagree with this rule.’ And she, by the way, is pursuing that by running for office. Great. She should do that. But in the meantime, she should not encourage people to disobey the rule, when it puts other people at risk.”

Multiple events by Boebert over the past month appear to violate statewide public health recommendations.

And one indoor event, an Aug. 31 fundraiser in Aspen, with U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, violated state rules, resulting in the Pitkin County health department issuing a warning to Boebert’s campaign.

Boebert (with McCarthy) at her fundraiser that violated health rules.

Wynia said events like the Aspen fundraiser could be putting public health at risk.

“To the extent that these are rules that make sense from a public health standpoint, and she is flouting them, she is putting pubic health at risk,” said Wynia. “Now, will there be an outbreak as a result of her doing this? That’s a lot harder to say. Someone will have to come to one of her events who is infected, probably without knowing it, and we may never find that out, because there is enough transmission going on in our community right now that someone who went to one of her events wouldn’t necessarily know that that’s where they got infected.”

Aspen Fundraiser (Boebert on left)

Other outdoor events show little respect for social distancing.

For example, Boebert appeared at an Aug. 29 meet-and-greet in Montrose, with U.S. Reps. Ken Buck (R-CO) and Andy Biggs (R-AZ), with a large crowd of people, mostly without masks.

An outdoor event in Mesa County Sept. 6 shows a similar lack of concern for distancing.

Boebert event in Montrose, CO.

“The role of government is to inform us of the risk, and then let us decide; let us choose what we are going to do,” said Boebert in a speech at a Sept. 14 campaign stop. “For instance, I know darn well, I’ve been told my whole life, the risks of eating raw cookie dough. I never want the government to come in and tell me what to do with my cookie dough. That is not the proper role. I know the risk and I’ll take it.”

A Sept. 6 Boebert event in Mesa County, CO

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In the bigger picture, Wynia says Boebert’s stance against public health orders shows a misunderstanding of Boebert’s own “belief system.”

Wynia explains: “What’s she’s saying is, ‘I’m a libertarian. Freedom is very important, and the government shouldn’t force us to do things for our own good.’ That’s fine, but this is not a nanny-state activity.

“You can take every risk you want. But you’re not taking a risk when you are not wearing a mask. You are imposing a risk on others.”

“Libertarians presumably believe in stop signs and speed limits,” says Wynia. “They are considered legitimate under libertarian philosophy because they prevent harm to others.”

“Libertarians believe there should be rules. But thoughtless libertarians think the rules don’t apply to them.”

But Boebert, whose campaign didn’t return an email seeking comment, says the virus is being used to seize control.

“As the virus has shown us, they want to take away small businesses, the lifeline of our country, the heartbeat of America,” said Boebert at the Sept. 14 campaign stop. “They want to tell you where you can shop, when you can shop there, what time of day, how old you have to be at that time to be there, and certainly what you have to wear.”