Hundreds gather in North Carolina and Missouri to protest stay-at-home orders

Most protesters were not wearing masks, and many did not adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Image: North Carolina stay-at-home protest
"ReOpenNC" protesters fill Lane Street in Raleigh as they march calling on North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper to ease COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday April 21, 2020.Robert Willett / The News & Observer via AP

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By Allan Smith

Hundreds of protesters gathered at state capitals in North Carolina and Missouri to protest stay-at-home orders Tuesday, the latest in a wave of demonstrations against statewide restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The small protests featured demonstrators — many of them wearing gear promoting President Donald Trump and waving "Don't Tread on Me" and U.S. flags — who mostly opted against wearing masks and ignored social distancing guidelines that health experts say are necessary to mitigate the transmission of the highly contagious virus.

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The protesters decried the stay-at-home orders, which have curtailed businesses and personal freedoms, and pointed to the 22 million Americans who have filed for first-time unemployment insurance over the past month. Health experts and many governors have cautioned against easing restrictions too soon given how easily the virus spreads, as well as limits on testing and treatment.

Although the protests have generated considerable media attention, polling indicates that they represent the views of a small minority of Americans. A Gallup poll conducted this month found that just 20 percent of Americans would like to see an immediate return to normal, while 71 percent prefer to wait and see how the outbreak develops.

In North Carolina, where one of Tuesday's protests took place, a poll by the conservative Civitas Institute found last week that 84 percent of respondents approved of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's handling of the outbreak.

Trump has expressed support for the protesters, tweeting about the need to "LIBERATE" three of the states with strict stay-at-home orders. But even the White House's own guidelines to reopen the country stress the need for a cautious and calculated return to normalcy.

"These are people expressing their views," he told reporters last week. "I see where they are, and I see the way they're working. They seem to be very responsible people to me."

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In a conference call with Vice President Mike Pence on Monday, Cooper and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked Pence whether the administration could make clear the importance of staying home and following the orders that are in place, as ABC News first reported and Whitmer confirmed during her news conference Monday. Pence said the administration would reiterate the point.

CORRECTION (April 21, 2020, 7:45 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the name of the organization that surveyed North Carolinians about Gov. Roy Cooper's handling of the coronavirus. It is the Civitas Institute, not the Citvas Institute.