As state begins to ease restrictions, scores gather to protest stay-at-home order

Published: May. 2, 2020 at 1:10 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than 100 gathered at the state Capitol on Friday to protest emergency stay-at-home orders aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus.

Three people were arrested for violating emergency orders, while five were cited.

The protesters, some of whom weren’t wearing masks, say the orders go too far and are doing more harm than good. At the rally, they were chanting and waving signs that read, “Re-open Hawaii" and "Live free or die.”

More than 100 people turned out at the state Capitol to protest stay-at-home orders.
More than 100 people turned out at the state Capitol to protest stay-at-home orders.(Hawaii News Now)

The rally comes as the state begins to ease slowly stay-at-home restriction. Protesters say leaders weren’t acting fast enough.

“I’m out here to protest and let the governor know that he needs to open everything back up," said Rafael Soto, an Ewa Beach resident and pastor at a Baptist church in Hawaii Kai.

"We’re tired of him suppressing our freedoms. People need to get back to work. The churches need to open up. People are hurting, people are hungry. It’s ridiculous, open it back up, what’s the point?”

Protester Jack De Feo called the warning he got from police “fascist and Communist to the core.”

One said that “extending the lockdown is worse than the virus itself.”

Similar protests have been popping up around the country amid debate over how to lift stay-at-home rules. Public health officials say the shutdowns — while extreme — are the only way to keep people safe. And public opinion is on their side: National polls show the vast majority of Americans support the stay-at-home orders.

Under the state’s emergency order, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Hawaii has slowed to a trickle. Statewide on Friday, just one new case was reported. On Thursday, the statewide total for new cases was five.

Hawaii also has the lowest coronavirus infection and fatality rates in the nation.

But shutting down all but the most essential activities has come at a hefty price. Unemployment in the state has hit an unprecedented 35% as the lifeblood of Hawaii’s economy — tourism — was brought to a standstill.

Gov. David Ige instituted his statewide stay-at-home order March 25 and it’s been extended through May 31.

But this week, some “low risk” businesses were given the green light to reopen.

Ige has said that the state shutdown will be lifted in “phases,” but has added that residents need to adapt to a new normal — of wearing masks, keeping a distance from others and avoiding crowds — until a vaccine is ready.

Several nurses also turned out at the Capitol rally Friday to stage something of a counter-protest. Wearing masks and scrubs, one nurse held a sign that read, “We go to work for you. Stay home for us.”

“I think the government is doing the right thing by opening slowly. We do need to get our businesses going, but we need to do it in a thoughtful manner and not ignore the reality of it,” said Dan Ross, President of the Hawaii Nurses Association.

“I think there are a lot of misguided people out here,” he added.

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