ANNAPOLIS — Scores of vehicles rolled through the state capital Saturday to call on Gov. Larry Hogan to lift restrictions put in place to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic that opponents say is doing more to damage the economy than to save lives.
The cars and trucks, emblazoned with signs and slogans and some with U.S. or Gadsden or Trump flags, are part of a series of protests in other states meant to cause gridlock and bring attention to the plight of people who say they have been put out of business and have gone a month without a paycheck.
“We need to get back to work so I can save my business,” said Delores Garrity, who owns a salon in Crofton that has been shuttered for nearly a month.
Garrity and her four employees have not drawn a check since she was ordered to close. She said she is borrowing money from relatives and is behind on her bills.
“I don’t have any money coming in,” said Garrity. “My dignity is gone.”
Garrity’s salon and most businesses deemed non-essential have been closed for nearly a month under an executive order issued by Hogan.
On Thursday, more than 61,000 additional Maryland residents filed for unemployment for the first time. The total number who have filed claims in the last four weeks is now nearly 300,000. One local economy expert said the state is likely an unemployment rate of nearly 14%.
On Saturday, the state reported it has passed the 12,000 mark for confirmed cases and has logged 463 deaths caused by the coronavirus. Nationally, more than 718,000 Americans have become infected and 37,730 have died, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.
Garrity and others called for businesses to be reopened. She said her salon could operate safely — despite current social distancing guidelines — by taking one customer at a time with an hour between customers. Sanitizing between appointments and gloves and masks would also be used as well as “standing back as far as you can,” she said.
Cars and trucks and vans snaked through the streets. Some honked horns. Others blasted music from patriotic to rap (about the president) and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
One woman in an SUV drove by with a sign calling for a reopening of business that read “I need my pedi.”
On Saturday, a new executive order took place requiring all residents and employees of businesses that remain open to wear face coverings while in those stores. Commuters who use public transportation are also required to cover their faces.
Hogan said the executive orders in place are meant to protect community health.
“Some people have said that covering their face infringes on their rights,” said Hogan. “This isn’t just about your rights or protecting yourself. It’s about protecting your neighbors, and the best science that we have shows that people might not know that they’re carriers of the virus and through no fault of their own, they could infect other people. Spreading this disease infringes on your neighbor’s rights.”
A man who would only identify himself as Mark from Baltimore said unreasonable fear was crippling the economy.
“I think we’ve got to get the state reopened,” said Mark, who is employed “in security.”
“We can’t continue to live our lives in fear,” he said. “Whether you like Trump or not the economy was going great. We shut it down ourselves.”
Mark said some should be prepared to become sick as the state tries to resurrect its economy.
“People get sick,” said Mark. “That’s life.”
Hogan on Friday said he will roll out some details of a plan that will gradually reopen the state for business.
“I understand the frustration,” said Hogan Friday. “I completely understand why people are anxious to get things going. I want to get our economy back and get things opened up as quickly as possible, just as much as anybody does but we’re also going to have to do that in a safe manner.”
The governor said the state’s plan will in someways look like federal guidance issued to the states by President Donald Trump that includes three phases of gradual resumption of business and social interaction. None of the phases resembles life in pre-pandemic America. Health experts say an effective vaccine may be the only way to return to what life looked like in January.
Hogan said that even under Trump’s plan “you can’t start to do any reopening in phase one until after 14 days of consistent numbers going down.”
“I understand people’s right to protest, and I understand their frustration because I am just as frustrated as they are.
Hogan said on Friday that the state has not yet reached its peak numbers and is not yet ready to phase out of the current set of restrictions.
“We have increasing numbers right now, so we’re not quite ready,” said Hogan.
“Just like we shut things down in a gradual (way) … I think we’ll gradually start easing things off and opening things up when we believe it is safe to do so,” Hogan said Friday.
Some messages on vehicles Saturday directed anger at Hogan, calling him a tyrant and demanding his impeachment.
Not everyone believes the official numbers used by Hogan and others.
“The whole lockdown of everything is based on false numbers and (National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony) Fauci needs to be held accountable,” said Leslie Engelman, a physican’s assistant who lives in Annapolis. “Now they’re covering it up.”
Engelman said she believes the best way to push through the pandemic is to reopen for business.
“We all need to eventually get it or get vaccinated,” said Engelman.
Overall, police reported no major incidents.
Maryland Capitol Police Chief Michael Wilson estimated about 150 vehicles participated in the rally that snaked its way through Annapolis. As many as eight motorists were issued citations for blocking traffic.
Another citation is pending after a truck rear-ended a motorcycle. Police said the male driver of the truck exited his vehicle to yell at someone but failed to put the truck in park. The vehicle rolled forward and struck a motorcycle. The two riders of the motorcycle were knocked to the ground. Police helped lift the motorcycle off of the riders. Neither suffered serious injuries, according to police.
In another incident, police separated a man who came out to support protesters and another man who was working for a television crew.
Greg Pierce, a Silver Spring resident, said he got into a shoving match with a man he said identified himself as a bodyguard for a television crew. Pierce said he got into the altercation with the man after he was blocked from passing the crew on a sidewalk because his face was not covered.
Police briefly separated the men and sent them on their way without charges.
The protesters in cars drew crowds along Church Circle and Main Street.
Some, including Amy Windham, came out in counterprotest.
“There are ways to support the economy without risking lives,” said Windham, an Annapolis resident who said she is a health sciences researcher.
Windham stood silent, hold her sign —mounted over an Obama-Biden campaign placard — that read simply “go home” as motorists passed by. Some rolled down their windows and politely told her to stay safe. Others yelled at her to go home.
Windham said the issue is personal to her because she has relatives who work in emergency rooms and one who is quarantined after being exposed to the virus.
“If people can’t survive for a month without getting paid, something is wrong,” she said.