Protesters organized by Reopen Delaware demand easing the social mandate and giving people and businesses a choice in what health guidelines they follow.
REHOBOTH BEACH – They raised the Trump flag and protested signs to the ground as if they had found new land. They take off their shoes to feel the warm sand between their toes. Some ran into the water, diving into the crashing waves.
They do not wear masks or try to stand 6 feet apart. These protesters will be on the beach – no matter what the governor says – even if it’s only for a few minutes.
According to one protester, the only thing that spreads on this beautiful May day is the “freedom virus”, not the corona virus.
As Delaware announced more cases and coronavirus deaths on Saturday, this afternoon at Rehoboth Beach offers a glimpse of what life looks like when the beach begins to reopen next week.
While public officials talk about how residents will experience the “new normal” aspect, old life in Delaware, before coronavirus, is still very much present.
While many people stay in their homes on Saturdays, most people who walk along Rehoboth Avenue do not wear masks. Twenty people threw the ball on the beach, and the children played in the sand. While most businesses close, only a few, such as Grotto Pizza and Thrasher’s French Fries, have signs that encourage social distance.
For two months, people were only allowed to exercise and guide their dogs on the beach. But this afternoon, several dozen people seemed to be relaxing.
The Delaware Reopen group held a public meeting on stage for almost two hours. At the busiest time, around 150 people attended – a fraction of the 2,700 Facebook group members.
People wear shirts with the words “My body, my choice” and “My rights do not end where your feelings begin.”
Speakers said they were bored with what they called violations of individual freedom. They want the business to be reopened soon. They want to go to the beach. They don’t want the government to tell them to wear masks.
“Our rights come from God, not them,” said Lauren Witzke, a Republican who ran for the U.S. Senate.
But in some ways, those present had gotten what they wanted: Governor John Carney on Friday announced that restrictions would be lifted on the Delaware beach and pool starting May 22, although “strict” social distance rules still existed.
The governor also announced that several businesses, including restaurants and bars, could be reopened on June 1. They also have to follow certain restrictions.
Similar to rally in Dover two weeks ago, where people protested Carney’s emergencies, the audience at the Rehoboth Beach rally did not wear a mask and made no effort to pay attention to social distance.
When Jessica Rosser, founder of Reopen Delaware, spoke to the crowd, he said the restrictions placed on Delawareans reminded him of Nazi Germany.
“I want the old one to be normal,” he said.
At the end of the rally, about two dozen participants walked to the beach. As they walked to the path, passing the “not wandering” sign at the entrance, the protesters looked at the police officers and told them that they were “exercising their rights” to be at the beach.
The majority of them stayed on the beach for about 10 minutes and then left on their own. Not long after, law enforcement arrived.
Although there were two people who mocked officers to write quotes to them, the police officers continued to watch a handful of people – as they had done for the others on the beach that day.
On Saturday afternoon, health officials announced an increase of 174 cases – making a total of 7,547 cases in Delaware. Fifteen more people have been killed, bringing the death toll to 286.
That is the largest number of coronavirus deaths reported in one day in Delaware.
Contact Meredith Newman at (302) 324-2386 or at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @merenewman
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