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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Hundreds Demand North Carolina Governor End Stay-Home Order

Steve Harrison
Protesters took to the streets of Raleigh on Tuesday, demanding that Gov. Roy Cooper reopen the state from the coronavirus pandemic.

RALEIGH -- Hundreds of protesters with the group ReOpen NC marched past the State Capitol in Raleigh on Tuesday, demanding that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper move quickly to end his stay-at-home order.

Credit Steve Harrison / WFAE
Protesters marched in Raleigh to have the stay-at-home order ended.

Chanting “Goodbye Cooper” and “Open North Carolina Now!” the protesters said they were still upset about the first march last week, when one person was arrested and the Raleigh Police Department tweeted that “protesting is not an essential activity.”

Cooper’s stay-at-home order ends April 29, and the Democratic governor has not said what’s next in the state’s efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

But many protesters – like Sarah Baucom of Raleigh – believe Cooper has overstepped his bounds.

“This will not be forgotten, this will definitely not be forgotten,” Baucom said. “It will be fresh on everyone’s minds, and I hope people take this into consideration when they are voting. A lot of times people vote with their pocketbooks and now those pocketbooks are empty.”

During the protest, there were a half-dozen health care workers wearing masks and smocks who staged a counter-protest.

Baucom says one of them told her – as a warning -- that she has had to intubate a child the same age as her son.

Baucom said that upset her, and she said the two began arguing. It ended with Baucom extending her middle finger toward the health care worker. At other times, protesters argued with health care workers, telling them to go back to work.

In a letter to ReOpen NC on Monday, Cooper’s legal counsel said the protest was allowed under the stay-at-home order. But the letter warned that law enforcement would “intervene” if protesters didn’t practice social distancing and stay six feet apart.

Credit Steve Harrison / WFAE

And for much of the rally, they did stay apart. But when protesters began marching down Jones Street, police initially blocked their way – creating a logjam of more than 100 people, packed tightly together. Police did not make any arrests.

One protester carried a sign that said “Fire Fauci” – a reference to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has at times been at odds with President Trump over the nation’s coronavirus strategy. There were numerous "don’t tread on me" flags and signs pledging support for the president.

It had the feel of a "make America great again" rally.

Gary Jesmok of Raleigh was one of the few protesters wearing a mask. He held a sign that said “Cooper is more dangerous than the virus.”

“It seems to me if you weigh the risks versus the consequences of that shutdown, the consequences are enormous,” he said. “Turn your TV on. Oil yesterday went for minus-$37 a barrel. What does that say about he world? It’s tops-turvy.”

Ninth District Congressman Dan Bishop, a Republican from Charlotte, attended the rally. Wearing a mask – but not holding a sign – Bishop said he initially supported Cooper’s order, but said the state needs a timetable for when stay-at-home will end.

“The governor has an extraordinary exercise of power to have this order that locks people in their houses,” he said. “And while people have been prepared to cooperate with it, it cannot go on idenfinetly. It cannot have an indefinite extension with no articulated plan that’s backed by fully disclosed facts and data and solid modeling to say when that will end."

Bishop said he also attended to stand for the Constitution, which he said had been violated a week earlier when a protester was arrested.

Bishop criticized the COVID-19 modeling from Mecklenburg County, which predicts a surge of cases in June – even as the number of new cases has been falling in late April.

In South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, Republican governors announced this week plans to reopen their states.

The group ReOpen NC says it will protest against next week.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.