SALT LAKE CITY — Dr. Angela Dunn has served as the face of COVID-19 information in Utah since the time the coronavirus pandemic reached the state earlier this year.
As the state's epidemiologist, she's helped provide input for state leaders who ultimately make final decisions on public health measures. She's also informed Utahns of traditional public health measures aimed to curb virus spread, as well as the many updates that have come as new research pours in about COVID-19, how it affects people, and how it spreads.
Now she finds herself in a situation other medical experts have been placed in this year. Much like how Dr. Anthony Fauci faced the scorn of Americans weary of public health measures, a small group of protesters has focused their attention on Dunn herself.
Dunn's home address was shared online this week with calls from a group called Utahns For Medical Freedom for people to show up outside her Salt Lake City home with signs to protest twice Thursday. The plan was to protest once in the morning and a second time at night. A handful of people showed up to her home in the morning with U.S. flags and political signs.
They were met by a Salt Lake City police officer who informed them that the signs violated city ordinance. He warned that protesters would be cited or arrested if they didn't put the signs away. The officer told protesters they could stay "as long as you're not targeting any specific house, you're not being vocal, chanting, picketing (or) holding signs up."
Per city code, targeted picketed protests in residential neighborhoods is prohibited and a class B misdemeanor. That includes marching with signs, banners, sound amplification devices or other means "of an opinion or a message" outside of any sort of home not used as a place of business, or is the place of a public meeting of the targeted person.
"The practice of targeted picketing in residential areas causes emotional disturbance and distress to residents, and has the potential to incite breaches of the peace," the code states. "Full opportunity exists for individuals to exercise their rights of free speech without resorting to targeted residential picketing. The provisions of this section are enacted for the purpose of protecting the significant public interests stated above and not to suppress free speech rights or any particular viewpoint."
Those who came to protest outside Dunn's home Thursday morning quickly obliged, packing away large homemade signs. An organizer who declined to speak on camera told KSL TV crews at the scene that they were there "to communicate with Dr. Dunn" and ask her questions.
About a dozen protesters returned outside to the neighborhood for about an hour Thursday evening, some carrying American and Gadsden flags. The Deseret News reported that police told protesters to keep moving or they would shut the protest down. The entire protest ended without incident.
During Thursday's press briefing, Dunn said she was made aware that protesters were outside her home that morning.
"It's scary and wrong that someone would feel comfortable sharing my personal information," she said. "It's taken a really big toll on my family and myself. And they're supposed to be there again tonight.
"I think it's really unfortunate that we live in a state where people feel that it is OK to harass civil servants," she added. "It's wrong, so I don't know what else to say about that."
Neighbors also confronted protesters; one threatened to call 911 if the protesters didn't get off their lawn during the morning. By the evening, some houses had signs with positive messages for their neighbor. "We ♥ you Dr. Dunn," one read.
The neighbors have mounted a very vigorous defense of Dr. Dunn. They’ve turn sprinklers on and ask protesters not to walk on their property and engage them about what good they thought was going to come from protesting in front of her house. pic.twitter.com/bLlkvfueAG— Amy Donaldson (@adonsports) October 29, 2020
Marc Cronan, who lives in the neighborhood, came across the protests while walking his dog and confronted them. He said wasn't surprised by what happened. based on political division in the state and country. Nevertheless, he believed the people showing up at Dunn's home were "crossing a line."
"This is supposed to be anybody's sanctuary," he said. "I mean, protest in front of the Capitol, government building, wherever a public place is, but not in front of a person's house. It's just wrong."
Gov. Gary Herbert said he understands why people are upset during what has been a long 7 ½ months; however, he also condemned the decision to take that frustration out by heading to an individual's home.
In a tweet after the briefing, the governor praised Dunn as a "critical leader" and called the protests "disgraceful" and "out of bounds." He urged anyone thinking of protesting outside her home in the future to stop, which some protesters ultimately ignored.
"I would hope that they would put that in a constructive effort," he said during Thursday's press briefing. "Protesting Dr. Dunn at Dr. Dunn's home is probably not the best use of their time. We've had protests at the Governor's Mansion, at the Capitol, at my home — my personal residence — and I don't know if it's making anything different or better. I think there's much better ways to utilize your time, and I would encourage people to be productive and follow the advice of our medical health experts."
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson were among other leaders who tweeted out messages of support for Dunn Thursday.
I can’t imagine where UT and Salt Lake County would be without @DrAngelaCDunn and my own Health Director Gary Edwards. Their dedication, professional and expertise during the pandemic is so deeply appreciated. The heroes of 2020 are our health professionals. 🙏#utpol#covid19ut— Jenny Wilson (@JennyWilsonUT) October 30, 2020
Even some of the government and health department's harshest critics questioned the decision to protest outside Dunn's home.
Eric Moutsos, the founder of Utah Business Revival, has created events against Utah's COVID-19 measures. He's also led protests at the governor's mansion, which he said was done because it's funded by tax dollars and was done outside of the building's gates.
In a Facebook post Thursday afternoon, Moutsos argued that it's fair to criticize Dunn and other leaders. In fact, he said Dunn went "way out of her lane" and that neither she nor Herbert understands "the proper role of government."
But he also argued that protests shouldn't be conducted at personal residences.
"I want to make it clear that myself and the Utah Business Revival is against going to the personal homes of elected representatives or those in the Health Departments to protest," his post reads, in part.
"Protests on tax payer government facilities is where this should happen in my opinion," he later added. "I don't condemn anyone who chooses to use their 1st Amendment right to do this, but I caution that things could go sideways really quick."
Contributing: Amy Donaldson, Deseret News; Mike Anderson, KSL TV