Protesters outside Gov. Carney’s office plead for him to reopen Delaware

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They waved “Reopen Delaware” signs and American flags, and a vendor hawked Trump hats and shirts.

Most wore masks, including some from the hacktivist group Anonymous.

Sirens blared and a parade of cars honked as drivers circled the block in downtown Wilmington, outside the Carvel State Office Building where several floors above Gov. John Carney has offices.

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The crowd of nearly 100 people was there to call on Carney to ease restrictions he has imposed over the last seven weeks to help stanch the spread of the coronavirus. A separate rally Friday also drew a big crowd outside Legislative Hall in Dover.

Carney’s “stay-at-home’’ order has shuttered restaurants, bars, gyms, clothing stores and hair salons, as well as Delaware’s treasured beaches. This week he mandated that people always wear masks to the stores that are open and in parks and other public spaces when they might be within six feet of others.

But some demonstrators Friday were barefaced, and few were at least six feet away from the next closest person. Police were on hand but watched from a distance.

Those in attendance said they just want to return to normal, a life of work, play and social experiences.

Michelle Murphy of Dover wore striped prison garb “because I feel like our freedom has been taken away and we’re prisoners in our own homes,’’ she said.

“I want people to return to their jobs. I want to go somewhere without people looking at me funny because I’m not wearing a mask because of medical issues,” Murphy said. “I want beach water to be open. I want the community pools to be open. I want church to be reopened.”

‘We don’t want people to die … get sick’

School bus driver Dave Truselo, who was wearing a mask and a Philadelphia Eagles cap, said he’s not insensitive to the public health threat of coronavirus.

“We don’t want people to die. We don’t want people to get sick,” Truselo said. “But how can the economy move forward if it’s closed for the next six months because they have no idea when they are going to reopen.”

“You are missing sports. You are missing life,” Truselo added. “What’s he trying to do, keep us locked in a room and go to Walmart and Target?”

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Lauren Witzke, who is challenging Chris Coons’ bid for re-election, joined the protest.

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“We have small businesses that are shutting down and American workers who are losing their livelihoods, so I am here to stand in support with the people of Delaware and protest our governor and get it reopened,’’ Witzke told WHYY.

Carney, a first-term Democrat seeking re-election in November, says he understands the protesters’ frustrations, but the most critical thing Delawareans can do before reopening businesses and social activities is to help stop the community spread of COVID-19.

During a press briefing shortly after the rally, Carney called it a “pretty vocal protest’’ and mentioned the one in the state’s capital city. “Everybody has the right to express their opinion.”

The governor added that he “would have hoped the protesters were here to express their support’’ for his State of Emergency measures, “but obviously we hear their eagerness to get back to work.”

In addition to the public rallies, Delaware’s House Republicans are calling on Carney to let non-essential businesses start reopening if they take steps to keep customers and employees safe. Two GOP state senators wrote to the governor, asking him to let churches resume having services “with social distancing recommendations’’ if they “provide disinfectants for congregants and disinfect surfaces between services.”

Carney responded that “It’s a little concerning that the vast majority of them represent the area where the biggest outbreak is right now.”

Sussex County, where many GOP lawmakers live, has the most cases of Delaware’s three counties. Despite being home to only 24 percent of Delaware’s population, the county has 47 percent of the state’s 4,918 laboratory-confirmed cases.

“Our success in preventing that spread,’’ Carney added, “is everybody buying into the restrictions we put in place.”

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