Protests flared in parts of the United States on Sunday against stay-at-home orders while governors disputed President Donald Trump’s claims they have enough tests for the novel coronavirus and should quickly reopen their economies.
An estimated 2,500 people rallied at the Washington state capitol in Olympia on Sunday to show their opposition to Democratic Governor Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order, in defiance of a ban on gatherings of 50 or more people.
Despite pleas from rally organisers to wear face coverings or masks as recommended by public health authorities, many did not.
“Shutting down businesses by picking winners and losers in which there are essential and non-essential are violations of the state and federal constitution,” rally organiser Tyler Miller, 39, an engineer from Bremerton, Washington, told Reuters news agency.
In Denver, hundreds of people gathered at the state capitol to demand the end to Colorado’s shutdown. As protesters clogged streets with cars, healthcare workers in scrubs and face masks stood at intersections in counterprotest.
Stay-at-home measures, which experts say are essential to slow the spread of the virus, have battered the US economy and more than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past month.
Demonstrations to demand an end to lockdown measures have previously erupted in cities in Texas, Wisconsin and the capitols of Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia.
“These people love our country,” Trump, who has touted a thriving economy as the best case for his re-election in November, told a briefing in Washington, DC on Sunday. “They want to get back to work.”
Most Americans, by two-to-one, disagree with the protesters, however. A new Pew survey found that most were more concerned about ending home confinement too soon rather than too late.
The US has by far the world’s largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 750,000 diagnosed with the disease and more than 40,500 deaths.
New York has borne the brunt of the virus, which has killed more than 18,000 people in the state, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. On Sunday, there were 507 new deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, down from a high of more than 700 a day.
Hospitalisations also continued to decline to 16,000 from a high of 18,000, and the number of patients being kept alive by ventilators also fell.
The region of Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC is still seeing increasing cases. New Jersey reported on Sunday that its new cases rose by nearly 3,900, the most in more than two weeks. The cities in Boston and Chicago are also emerging hotspots with recent surges in cases and deaths.
Trump’s guidelines to reopen the economy recommend a state record 14 days of declining case numbers before gradually lifting restrictions. Yet the Republican president appeared to encourage protesters who want the measures removed sooner with a series of Twitter posts on Friday calling for them to “LIBERATE” Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, all run by Democratic governors.
Washington’s Inslee stepped up his attacks on Trump’s call to “liberate” states, saying the president was encouraging people to violate state laws on self-isolating.
“These orders actually are the law of these states,” he said. “To have an American president encourage people to violate the law, I can’t remember any time during my time in America where we have seen such a thing.”