Updated 10:09 p.m.
As Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state was “many days, not weeks” away from relaxing its stay-at-home order, California Highway Patrol officers arrested 32 demonstrators during a protest against it at the state Capitol.
Most of the protesters on Friday did not observe social-distancing guidelines as people rushed the building and carried signs decrying the governor and questioning the virus’ impact.
Dozens of demonstrators, many without masks or face coverings, yelled directly in front of CHP officers during tense standoff.
Unlike a similar protest last month, the CHP did not give organizers a permit for Friday’s event. CHP did issue several orders to disperse, for creating a health hazard due to potential spread of COVID-19. Eventually, officers wearing helmets, face shields and wielding batons moved the crowd off the Capitol grounds.
A spokesperson confirmed the 32 citations, and the department said it would release a press statement on Friday.
Despite reports that anti-stay-home-order demonstrations have been organized by conservative groups, many in attendance on Friday expressed sincere frustration with the pandemic’s impact on their communities.
Diane McMichael came from Oakhurst to urge Newsom to reopen businesses. “I’m here to encourage our governor to open California, that we need to protect the elderly and the sick, but the healthy and the young need to be out and about and we need to have business as usual,” she said.
Others questioned the government’s right to force them to stay at home. “I feel strongly that our civil liberties are being violated,” said Jamie Fenton of Friant, a small town north of Fresno.
During his Friday press briefing, which took place as the protest was starting, Newsom defended their right to demonstrate but deferred questions about enforcing the state's social distancing guidelines to the CHP.
"All I ask for is this: take care of yourself," Newsom said. "Wear a face covering. Do justice to social-distancing. This disease doesn't know if you're a protestor or a Democrat or a Republican,” Newsom said.
Until there is a vaccine for COVID-19 or widespread diagnostic testing, public health experts say social distancing guidelines should stay in place.
Kathy Moore disagrees. She traveled from Santa Rosa to protest at the Capitol, and says the government should allow businesses to open. “A lot of people don’t have any symptoms with this at all. So why should they not be working and doing what they want?” she said.
Officials say that because anyone can be an asymptomatic carrier of the virus, the best way to prevent a spike in illness is to physically separate yourself from anyone not in your household.
As of Friday evening, a CHP spokesperson was unable to provide the number of arrests during Friday’s demonstration.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
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