Protests against coronavirus lockdown orders spread in North Carolina, Missouri: ‘My rights are essential’

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Angry demonstrators took to the streets in North Carolina and Missouri on Tuesday to voice their discontent at their states’ stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The protests in Raleigh, N.C. and Jefferson City, Mo., are the latest in a series of protests across the country against state lockdown orders – fueled by tweets of support from President Trump and the economic unease caused by the coronavirus.

Holding handmade signs with slogans like “My Rights Are Essential” and “ReOpenNC,” hundreds of people marched through downtown Raleigh while chanting “Freedom Now.” Most of the people at the protest were not wearing masks and were ignoring orders to maintain social distancing practices.

Similar signs along with a slew of American flags were seen as people began to gather outside the Missouri Capitol building, although the protestors seemed to be trying to maintain better social distancing than in North Carolina.

Protests against the lockdown orders have cropped up in numerous states over the past few weeks as some Americans have become frustrated with being told to stay at home and with the economic freefall the virus has caused.

The federal government said Thursday that 5.2 million more Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the four-week total to about 22 million out of a work force of 159 million — easily the worst stretch of U.S. job losses on record. The losses translate to about one in seven workers.

Last week, hundreds of cars, trucks and SUVs descended on Michigan’s state capital Wednesday afternoon as part of a noisy protest against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s social-distancing restrictions that critics say have gone too far. The same day, a number of people gathered outside the Kentucky Capitol building to protest Gov. Andy Beshear’s shutdown orders, while more gathered in Virginia to protest on Thursday.

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Several hundred people rallied in Texas' capital over the weekend, chanting “Let us work!” Many clamored for an immediate lifting of restrictions in a state where more than 1 million have filed for unemployment since the crisis began.

The rally was organized by a host of Infowars, owned by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who joined protesters on the Capitol steps. Jones is being sued in Austin over using his show to promote falsehoods that the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticut was a hoax.

In Indianapolis, more than 200 people stood close together outside the governor's mansion, carrying American flags and signs demanding that Gov. Holcomb lift restrictions. Indiana's state health department reported 529 new cases between April 7 and midday Friday, raising the total to more than 10,600. The number of deaths rose by 26, to 545.

Elsewhere, a few hundred demonstrators waved signs outside the Statehouse in New Hampshire, which has had nearly 1,300 cases of the virus and more than three dozen deaths.

More protests this week are planned in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Wisconsin.

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While many governors have pleaded with their constituents to not protest during the public health crisis as it may only cause more people to get sick, the demonstrations – mainly organized by conservative groups – have found an ally in the president.

“LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” Trump said in a tweet-storm in over the weekend in which he also lashed out at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, for criticizing the federal response.

Four states – Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas – already have lifted some restrictions or plan to this week.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, gave the green light for some outdoor areas in the state to reopen late last week even as he cautioned that social distancing guidelines should remain in place. Florida has been one of the state’s hardest hit by the contagion, with almost 26,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 764 deaths.

The state was one of the last in the nation to order a lockdown and was heavily criticized for leaving beaches open during part of the spring break period last month. But by late Friday afternoon, thousands of people flooded the beaches in places like Jacksonville after they reopened despite pleas from mayors to practice safe social distancing measures.

In nearby South Carolina, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster is set to announce on Monday the reopening of state beaches and some retail stores. McMaster already reinstated last Friday access to public boat ramps and landings.

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced over the weekend that state parks will reopen for recreational activity on Monday, so long as citizens wear masks and maintain a distance of six feet from each other. Subsequent measures will allow hospitals to resume elective tests and surgeries while stores can start “retail to go” services, starting on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.

Despite the protests and opening up of some states, many lawmakers and public health officials warn that the country is far from safe when it comes to dealing with the virus. The Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University has recorded more than 788,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that over 39,000 people in the country have died for the disease.

Public Health officials have said the ability to test enough people and trace contacts of the infected is crucial before easing restrictions, and that infections could surge anew unless people continue to take precautions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.