HARRISBURG, PA — A mass gathering protesting business closures and the statewide restrictions aimed at fighting the new coronavirus is scheduled to take place next week in front of the State Capitol in Harrisburg.
Organizers say thousands of people plan to attend the demonstration at noon Monday. One of the groups organizing the protest, ReOpen PA, has garnered more than 17,000 members in its Facebook group after being launched Monday.
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Organizers are encouraging social distancing at the event, and attendees are told to “wear a face mask if you feel so inclined.”
“This was started by concerned citizens of Pennsylvania to get Pennsylvanians back to work and reopen the economy,” Matthew Bellis, the founder of the group, said in a video explaining its purpose. The group says its aims are to promote commonsense reforms, to create a situation “where the vulnerable can be isolated and protected without sacrificing our economy nor severely limiting our liberty.”
The state has been under a stay-at-home order since April 1 in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, which had killed 647 Pennsylvanians as of Wednesday. All nonessential business were ordered closed by the governor March 16.
Meanwhile, millions of Pennsylvania residents have been unable to work and are filing for unemployment benefits in droves. Nearly 1.5 million in the Keystone State have filed for unemployment since March 15.
Similar events have taken place around the country recently, as unrest grows regarding mitigation measures. Events by groups protesting closures in states such as Virginia and Michigan have taken place in recent days.
“If we get asked by the police to move, we will move to another location,” organizers said. “We will assemble to show our numbers and pressure the governor to cooperate with reopening. We don’t want any violence or threatening behavior. This will be a civil protest.”
But officials in opposition to the legislation say “aggressive social distancing” is the only way to prevent a greater loss of life.
“There is no doubt that this legislation would lead to more Pennsylvanians infected with COVID-19,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. “Encouraging increased social movement of Pennsylvanians at this time by reopening a significant amount of businesses would be reckless and irresponsible.”
Related groups that are promoting the event including End the Lockdown PA and Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine, the latter of which has just under 30,000 members in its own Facebook group.
On Thursday, Wolf issued an order mandating masks at stores at around Pennsylvania. While masks are strongly encouraged in all public settings and large group gatherings are strongly discouraged, it remains unclear what level of enforcement, if any, the protesters may encounter.
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