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Protesters gathered outside of the Minnesota governor's mansion Friday rebelling against coronavirus stay-at-home orders and demanding an end the lockdown, chanting "open up."
Despite the social distancing guidelines in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of people gathered in St. Paul for a "Liberate Minnesota" demonstration outside Gov. Tim Walz's official residence, according to local news reports.
At least 400 protesters honked horns, waved American flags and donned Trump 2020 gear. Outside in the sun, the protestors held signs reading "Stop the Shutdown," "We do not consent" and "Walz is the virus," according to reports from KMSP-TV/FOX 9 Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Images from the protests show demonstrators scoffing at COVID-19 precautions such as face masks.
One demonstrator held a sign reading: "F--k it, mask off."
Trump has implemented nationwide guidelines that call for Americans to stay home and to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. While he's urged Americans to be diligent on washing hands and social distancing in order to save lives, he also tweeted support Friday morning for "liberate" rallies against Democratic governors.
On Friday he tweeted out "LIBERATE MINNESOTA" and similar tweets for Michigan and Virginia in a nod of support to the demonstrators that have gathered and have largely consisted of supporters of the president, often waving Trump flags and wearing "Make America Great Again" hats.
Shunning coronavirus precautions, the protesters gathered close to each and even a GOP candidate for state Senate, Jason Lewis, was using the opportunity to campaign and shake hands with protesters, according to FOX 9 reporter Theo Keith.
Organizers of the rally said in a Facebook post they are demanding Walz and state lawmakers "end this lock down!"
They argue their freedoms and their economic livelihoods are "under full blown attack by a radical anti-American Governor -- and we must act quickly if we are going to save them."
Citing Trump's statements that the "cure" for the coronavirus cannot be worse than the disease, organizers say the shutdown of businesses and the economy has destroyed "thousands of lives."
Trump outlined plans Thursday to gradually reopen the economy in three phases but said it would be up to the governors to implement.
The number of people infected with the coronavirus has climbed by 159 to 2,071, while 17 new fatalities have raised the state's death toll to 111, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. As of Friday, 223 patients were hospitalized -- 10 more than Thursday -- and 106 of them were in intensive care, an increase of three. But 1,066 patients have recovered and no longer need isolation.
Trump's tweet Friday got a “thank you” tweet from Lewis, as he kicked off a “Re-Open Minnesota for Business” tour of the state Friday. The former congressman and talk radio host says he wants the economy to reopen while protecting the vulnerable. He plans to visit small business owners at their shuttered locations across the state in the coming weeks.
Walz, whose stay-at-home order runs through at least May 4, loosened some restrictions Friday by signing an executive order that allows residents to golf, boat, fish, hunt and hike as long as they follow new outdoor recreation guidelines: maintain 6 feet of social distancing, avoid crowded areas and stay close to home.
Businesses that could reopen starting Saturday include golf courses, bait shops, marinas and outdoor shooting ranges. Campgrounds, recreational equipment retail and rental stores, charter boats and guided fishing remain closed.
“It’s important for us to stay active and enjoy the outdoors while preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Walz said in a statement. “This measure will allow Minnesotans to take advantage of more opportunities to get outside, while still doing their part to keep their neighbors healthy.”
The movement of protests, which started with demonstrations in North Carolina and Michigan, has now spread to New York, Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky, too, with more protests slated for the coming days even as federal and state officials are warning that rolling back virus mitigation efforts too soon will lead to even more coronavirus cases and set back the nation's response to the pandemic.
The Associated Press and Fox News' Tyler Olson contributed to this report.