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Protests draw thousands over state stay-at-home orders during coronavirus pandemic

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 4/16/2020 Savannah Behrmann, USA TODAY
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WASHINGTON – Multiple states have seen protests as stay-a-home orders meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus continue.

Many protesters were angry about the economic ramifications the restrictions are causing. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg estimate the Labor Department will report Thursday that 5.5 million Americans filed initial applications for unemployment insurance last week.

The protests are occurring as President Donald Trump and governors debate over when states should loosen the restrictions put in place to ensure people practice social distancing.

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While discussing whether he or the nation's governors have the power to lift restrictions, Trump declared at a news briefing Monday, "When somebody’s president of the United States, the authority is total." 

The president's unprecedented claim of total power met with immediate pushback from Democrats and Republicans, many of them arguing the U.S. Constitution explicitly refutes his claim to absolute authority. 

More: Here's what the Constitution's 10th Amendment says about Trump's claim to have total authority over states

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a group of people in a park: April 15, 2020; Lansing, MI, USA: Rallygoers, including open-carry advocates protest against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order in downtown near the State Capitol. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal via USA TODAY NETWORK ORIG FILE ID: 20200415_neb_mds_120.JPG © Matthew Dae Smith, Lansing State Journal - USA TODA April 15, 2020; Lansing, MI, USA: Rallygoers, including open-carry advocates protest against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order in downtown near the State Capitol. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal via USA TODAY NETWORK ORIG FILE ID: 20200415_neb_mds_120.JPG

However, Trump, speaking Wednesday at the White House task force press conference, said recommendations about opening the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic would be released Thursday after a conference call with all 50 governors.

Here are some states that have seen protests thus far:

Michigan 

Demonstrators drove thousands of vehicles – many draped with protest signs – to Michigan's state Capitol on Wednesday, loudly protesting Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order.

The demonstration was dubbed "Operation Gridlock" because organizers said they wanted to gain attention by tying up traffic. With the thousands of vehicles, traffic was backed up for more than a mile around the Capitol in several directions, according to Lt. Darren Green of the Michigan State Police.

Slideshow by photo services

More: Gov. Whitmer says Capitol protesters put others at risk, may have worsened pandemic

State infection numbers in Michigan appeared to flatten somewhat going into last weekend, but both infection and death numbers were up again on Monday. Health officials have recently expressed cautious optimism but have added that it is too soon to say that the infection has reached its peak in Michigan.

Whitmer said she respects the right to protest, saying it does not violate the stay-at-home order, but she said many of the protesters put themselves and others at risk of contracting COVID-19.

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Whitmer declared a state of emergency in Michigan on March 10 and announced a "stay-at-home" order March 23 that directed residents to stay inside, except for essential purposes, and told businesses deemed nonessential to stop calling employees in to work. Last week, she extended that order until May 1, while imposing tougher restrictions on nonessential travel and some retail outlets.

Michigan has the third-highest number of coronavirus deaths in the nation.

Kentucky 

About 100 protesters demanded Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear reopen Kentucky and disrupted his televised Wednesday afternoon pandemic update by chanting, blowing horns and shouting into a megaphone outside the window of the briefing room, nearly drowning out his comments to Kentuckians.

Protesters, some of whom appeared to be standing less than 6 feet apart from one another, chanted "we want to work" and "facts over fear." 

About halfway through his briefing, Beshear acknowledged the protesters, saying "there's some noise in the background."

"We do have some folks up in here in Kentucky today – and everybody should be able to express their opinion – that believe we should reopen Kentucky immediately, right now," Beshear said. "Folks, that would kill people. That would absolutely kill people."

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The protesters particularly disagreed with Beshear’s decision to order the closure of myriad businesses across the commonwealth — a move he made to slow the spread of COVID-19, which has killed 122 Kentuckians and infected 2,291 so far.

Ohio

Around 100 protesters gathered outside the Statehouse during GOP Gov. Mike Dewine’s appearance on Monday, at least one wearing a Donald Trump hat while many carried signs expressing displeasure at the stay-at-home order or waved American flags.

Additionally, a growing chorus of Ohio’s Republican lawmakers want DeWine to set a date for the first phase of re-opening businesses, schools and public places.

a person standing in front of a window: Protesters stand outside the Statehouse Atrium where reporters listen during the State of Ohio's Coronavirus response update on Monday, April 13, 2020 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. About 100 protesters assembled outside the building during Gov. Mike DeWine's weekday update on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, upset that the state remains under a Stay-At-Home order and that non-essential businesses remain closed. © Joshua A. Bickel, Dispatch via USA TODAY Network Protesters stand outside the Statehouse Atrium where reporters listen during the State of Ohio's Coronavirus response update on Monday, April 13, 2020 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. About 100 protesters assembled outside the building during Gov. Mike DeWine's weekday update on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, upset that the state remains under a Stay-At-Home order and that non-essential businesses remain closed.

Earlier, the first-term Republican governor made it clear during an interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that any loosening of the stay-at-home order would be contingent on coronavirus testing results and other health data.

“Whenever we open up, however we do it, if people aren’t confident, if they don’t think they’re safe, they’re not going to go to restaurants, they’re not going to go to bars, they’re not going to really get back into society,” DeWine said.

More: California expands aid to undocumented workers, bolsters unemployment benefits help center

One protester questioned whether DeWine was truly a Republican, asking, "Don't he believe in less government? Small government?"

Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton issued the stay-at-home order March 22, but schools have been closed since March 12. That order expires May 1, but it’s increasingly likely that students and teachers won’t return to their classrooms this academic year.

Utah

Hundreds of Utah residents gathered Wednesday to protest the state's closures of businesses and facilities due to the coronavirus.

St. George resident Larry Meyers organized the event in an effort to "assert our God-given, Constitutionally-protected rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, religious freedom, the right to contract, and the right to use our property as we see fit so long as we do not harm others" according to a Facebook post.

There was a large turnout in front of the Washington County administration building as people marched around the block holding signs urging Gov. Gary Herbert to re-open non-essential businesses.

Deborah Palmer, a St. George resident who owns a small business, says that her concern for her family's job security is what brought her out to the march.

"My daughter is out of work, my husband's work has slowed down and I'm out of work because of this," Palmer said. "I hope our representatives and our governing officials get to see that there is a great number of us who do not support the government mandate and restrictions taking away our rights."

North Carolina

Police in North Carolina on Tuesday arrested a protester after more than 100 people gathered in downtown Raleigh to protest Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order.

The arrest was made by the State Capitol Police, according to the Raleigh Police Department. RPD released a statement on social media regarding the protest and said “protesting is not listed as an essential function” under stay-at-home orders issued by Cooper and Wake County, where Raleigh is located. 

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Cooper’s order was originally announced March 29 and is set to be in effect until at least April 29. Wake County’s order went into effect March 27 and is set to be lifted Thursday, though the Raleigh News & Observer reported the county is expected to extend the order two weeks. The News & Observer reported there were more than 100 people at the protest.

Virginia 

There is a protest planned Thursday in Richmond, Virginia by group of people upset with  the stay-at-home order into place to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

According to ABC-affiliated television station WHSV, "Groups known as ReOpen Virginia, End The Lockdown VA and Virginians Against Excessive Quarantine say they will have "thousands of concerned citizens" gathering at Virginia's Capitol Square on April 16 at 11:30 a.m."

More: Sen. Susan Collins says Trump's public statements on the coronavirus outbreak have been 'very uneven'

On Wednesday, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam announced that he was extending Virgina's business closures by two weeks. It was set to expire on April 23, but now will continue until at least May 8. The stay-at-home order for Virginians remains in effect until June 10, as it was originally set.

“Government mandating sick people to stay home is called quarantine. However, the government mandating healthy citizens to stay home, forcing businesses and churches to close is called tyranny,” said ReOpen Virginia in a press release

Contributing: Paul Egan, Kara Berg, Detroit Free Press; Jordan Culver, USA TODAY; Anna Staver and Cole Behrens, The Columbus Dispatch; Morgan Watkins, Joe Sonka and Jon Hale, Louisville Courier Journal; Terell Wilkins, The (St. George, Utah) Spectrum

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Protests draw thousands over state stay-at-home orders during coronavirus pandemic

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