- Associated Press - Friday, May 1, 2020

DOVER, Del. (AP) - Protesters gathered outside Delaware’s statehouse on Friday demanding that Democratic Gov. John Carney lift restrictions he has imposed on individuals and businesses in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

More than 400 people defied Carney’s prohibition on gatherings of more than 10 people and mandates requiring social distancing and the wearing of face coverings in public. The rally was preceded by a noisy, flag-waving parade of vehicles slowly circling the capitol and Legislative Mall, horns blaring.

“It’s going to let him know that we’re not happy, at the very least,” said Bill Hinds of Newark. “There’s a lot of people being hurt by this lock down. Losing their jobs, losing their businesses. … This is a life-changing event for everybody in Delaware.”

Ellen Forbes of Newark said that, before attending the rally, she wrote a letter to Carney asking him to “unlock Delaware.”

“The quarantine is not helping any more. It’s hurting,” she said.

The Dover rally was organized by a Facebook group called Delawareans Against Excessive Quarantine, led by Lisa Marie McCulley of Middletown. A similar rally was held outside the Carvel state office building in Wilmington.

“I think we have all been really patient,” said McCulley, noting that Carney issued his emergency declaration 50 days ago.

Carney said he understands that people are getting frustrated.

“I know it’s wearing thin on everyone, and I understand that,” said Carney, who nevertheless seemed unswayed by Friday’s protests.

“Everybody has the right to express their opinion and folks are doing that,” he said. “I guess I would have hoped that the protesters were more here to express their appreciation for what we’re doing and their support for what we’re doing. But obviously we hear and understand their opposition and their eagerness to get back to work.”

In response to a question, however, Carney criticized the protesters for not complying with social distancing mandates.

“Obviously they have free speech rights. … They don’t have the right to put other people at risk, which is what happens when they’re gathering kind of illegally,” he said. “But as governor, I don’t want to go around looking, picking for fights. I just don’t think it’s productive.”

Meanwhile, two Republican state senators who attended Friday’s rally sent a letter to Carney urging him to allow religious institutions to resume worship services with social distancing recommendations.

“Our religious leaders should not fear being arrested for performing services and helping those in the community that are suffering the most due to the virus and the shutdowns,” the lawmakers wrote.

In other developments, state officials said Friday that more than 28,000 people have been tested for the coronavirus. Public health director Dr. Karyl Rattay said 1.7% of Delaware’s population has been tested, ranking it in the top 15 among all states.

As of Thursday evening, state officials reported more than 4,918 cases of coronavirus and at least 159 deaths. Officials said 281 people were hospitalized as of Thursday. They had previously estimated that twice that number would be hospitalized by mid-April.

Carney has repeatedly noted that hospital capacity has not been an issue in Delaware.

“The available capacity is twice-plus what we see on the board,” he said Friday, adding that the state is not close to needing alternative care facilities that it had prepared in the event that hospitals were overrun.

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