Hundreds of protesters descended on the New Hampshire capital on Saturday to protest restrictions on movement and businesses prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak that is sweeping the state, the nation and the world.
“Let’s go back to business," said JR Hoell, treasurer of Re-open NH. "Let’s open up New Hampshire!”
The crowd was larger than a similar protest two weeks ago that drew several hundred people. Some of the protesters were militia members wearing camouflage, with their faces covered and carrying weapons.
Cars circled Main Street honking their horns, while members of the crowd carried signs with slogans such as "We are on to your PLANdemic." Others included "We are all essential except politicians," "End the lockdown," and "Land of the free or of tyranny."
"It’s in gods hands what happens to me and my health and anybody else’s for that matter," said Andrew J. Manuse, chairman of Re-open NH.
Gov. Chris Sununu announced “Stay at Home 2.0” on Friday, extending the state's stay-at-home order through May 31 amid the coronavirus outbreak, but making it more flexible for some Granite Staters.
Businesses like hair salons and golf courses may open with exceptions on May 11. Beginning May 18, restaurants can reopen but must meet strict sanitation guidelines.
“These regulations are of concern to us, right. Businesses are being forced to operate at less than ideal capacity, which means they can’t operate,” Hoell said.
Organizers of Re-open New Hampshire say the changes are not enough.
“My child isn’t getting feeding therapy. I’m not allowed to go to church,” Manuse said.
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When asked about the lack of social distancing and masks and the critics who say gatherings like Saturday's rally are not safe, Hoell responded, “Fourteen days ago I was here with a whole bunch of people behind me and guess what we’re not all in the hospital.”
Those in attendance say they want to see the state fully opened and let people decide whether to go out or not.
Organizers say they may hold more rallies depending on what the governor decides next.
New Hampshire has had nearly 2,500 cases of the virus and more than 80 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 through Saturday.