HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA — A crowd of over 200 people gathered Friday in downtown Huntington Beach, police say. They demonstrated against the stay-at-home orders put in place to slow the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Huntington Beach department spokesperson.
"There were about 20o people at the height of it," Huntington Beach Police spokeswoman Angie Bennet told Patch. "Those thinned out to about a hundred, and then a few dozen before they fully dispersed."
The protesters largely ignored social distancing and face mask recommendations as they gathered around Main Street and Walnut Avenue, and carried signs with messages that included "Liberate Huntington Beach," "Open Cali Now" and "COVID-19 Is a Lie," the latter held by a man wearing a hazmat- style suit, mask, goggles and gloves.
Some carried American flags and banners in support of President Donald Trump during the local "March for Freedom" protest, organized by a local business owner as part of a string of national rallies objecting to quarantine rules.
The protest came on the day the city closed all metered parking along Pacific Coast Highway and all beaches within Huntington Harbor. Huntington Beach, one of the largest cities in the county with a population of 203,761, has one of the highest rates of coronavirus cases -- 103.
Newport Beach, with a population of 87,180, has 90 coronavirus cases as of Friday. Seal Beach has nine cases amid a population of 25,073, and Costa Mesa, another neighboring city with a population of 115,830, has 29 cases and is now mandating face coverings for store workers and shoppers.
Rep. Harley Rouda of Laguna Beach spoke on the event, saying "these protesters are putting thousands of Orange County residents unnecessarily at risk," over Twitter. "#COVID19 is a deadly disease, often spread by symptomless carriers. Stay home. Save lives."
These protesters are putting thousands of Orange County residents unnecessarily at risk. #COVID19 is a deadly disease, often spread by symptomless carriers. Stay home. Save lives.https://t.co/TJfpMBxmws
— Harley Rouda (@HarleyRouda) April 17, 2020
While Sen. John Moorlach, of Costa Mesa, told City News Service that he understood the protesters' frustration.
"I think we've got to start treating people like adults. There's got to be some relaxing," Moorlach said. "I don't play golf, but, really? You're not going to let people play golf? Or buy cars at a car dealership or go to the dentist?"
He acknowledged that some people could be asymptomatic, meaning they are carriers of the virus but show no symptoms, "but life comes with risks, and I don't see anyone telling me not to drive anymore because I might die.I don't have all the answers, but, wait a second, maybe we need to lighten up in certain areas."
The senator said he has been fielding heartbreaking calls from small business owners who are losing their companies and struggling to get loans. Restaurant owners, he said, have tried to get insurance to pay off on business disruption only to be told their claims don't cover pandemics.
If after relaxing quarantine rules there is an uptick in COVID-19 then the state could go back to more restrictive measures, Moorlach said.
But health experts say that lifting stay-at-home orders too early could lead to a dangerous uptick in COVID-19 cases and flare-ups in areas where the outbreak has eased.
Local resident Lance Siegal, who was passing through the area when saw the protest, said he disagreed with the demonstrators' call to immediately end stay-at-home restrictions.
"We really have to trust the process," he told the Orange County Register. "We have to trust the medical professionals for the final say. They're the ones who are seeing this on the front lines."
Other residents took to social media to express their views.
"Damn I'm embarrassed to be a resident of Huntington Beach right now...," one said, while another tweeted footage of the demonstration and wrote, "From my hometown of Huntington Beach, CA today. (Expletive) morons."
Paula Doyle, 62, of Costa Mesa, stood her ground, carrying a "Live Free or Die" sign and telling reporters that the measures put into place in California were killing business.
"I just want to go back to normal," she said. "I don't think there's a reason for this."
City News Service, Patch Editor Ashley Ludwig contributed to this report.
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