By MARIA HEETER, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Protesters rallied outside the State House Saturday calling for Gov. Chris Sununu to end his stay-at-home order aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19.
The emergency order, issued March 27, mandates that people stay home unless they are working in essential businesses or other matters that have to be taken care of. He has made it clear at news conferences there are exceptions, including getting outside for a breath of fresh air.
When issuing the order, Sununu said people are free to go for a walk, to the grocery store, to work and essential functions, but should otherwise stay at home. The order is set to continue through May 4.
People must limit gatherings to 10 or less people. There appeared to be more than 100 people of all ages attending the protest, but there was no official head count. They mostly appeared to ignore social distancing and most of their faces were uncovered.
Protesters stood tightly packed in a large group and held signs reading “Live Free or Die in Lockdown,” “Don’t Quarantine the Economy” and “Freedom Trumps the Commie Virus.”
The noon protest appeared to be in violation of Sununu’s stay-at-home Order #17, which mandates most New Hampshire people stay home and all non-essential businesses close.
Businesses and people violating COVID-19 emergency orders could face criminal charges, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald told law enforcement agencies in a memo last month. But MacDonald cautioned police to exercise discretion “with great care.”
People could be charged with misdemeanors and businesses could be charged with felonies if they are found violating emergency orders, MacDonald said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings, and to maintain 6-feet social distancing.
One of the organizers, former state Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, told Patch.com he was surprised by the turnout and noted there were a lot of different and new types of people in attendance compared to past rallies, like the annual 2nd Amendment event held last month.
“We’ve been told that there is only one option — that we have to shut the state down,” Hoell told the news site. “I believe there is another option. We can protect the elderly, we can protect the most vulnerable, we can insist the people that are in long-term health care facilities are well taken care of without compromising the rest of the state.”
New Hampshire State Police did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Concord police deferred to State Police because it was at the State House.