Protests against coronavirus lockdown across US frustrate officials

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A New York City urban park ranger hands out free face masks at the Prospect Park in the Brooklyn borough of New York, the United States, May 3, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

U.S. governors, facing persistent if not escalating protests in their respective states against coronavirus-related lockdown measures, have become increasingly frustrated, with a top White House official tasked with tackling the pandemic calling the demonstrators' behaviors "devastatingly worrisome."

White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator Deborah Birx said Sunday that it was "devastatingly worrisome" that those who protested at state Capitols demanding resumption of normal life didn't wear masks or keep social distance, as they should have been doing according to the White House's guidelines aimed at containing the spread of the virus.

Speaking during Fox News's "Fox News Sunday," Birx warned that in doing so the protesters risked transmitting the contagion to their relatives who are vulnerable to the disease.

"It's devastatingly worrisome to me personally because if they go home and they infect their grandmother or grandfather who has a comorbid condition and they have a serious or very unfortunate outcome they will feel guilty for the rest of their lives," she said. "So we need to protect each other at the same time as we're voicing our discontent."

Birx's remarks came as protests against stay-at-home orders were taking place in several states, demanding the reopening of the economy, a process a number of states have already started but is still at the initial phase.

Asked whether it was safe for businesses such as hair salons to reopen for the time being, Birx said it was "safer" if the barber and customer both wore masks. She added, however, that it was "clear that that's not a good phase one activity," referring to the four-phase gradual reopening that the White House previously unveiled.

One of the most controversial protests erupted Thursday in Michigan, where hundreds of angry demonstrators, some even armed with assault weapons, gathered at the Michigan State Capitol in the city of Lansing to protest the statewide stay-at-home order.

On-the-scene photos showed that the crowd stormed into the legislative building, attempting to get onto the House floor as state police and House sergeants blocked them from stepping further.

The Republican-controlled legislature voted later in the day not to extend the state's state of emergency declaration before it expired at midnight, prompting Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer to immediately issue an order declaring new 28-day states of emergency and disaster.

Whitmer told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday what the protesters did depicted some of the "worst racism and awful parts" of the nation's history.

"Some of the outrageousness of what happened at our capitol depicted some of the worst racism and awful parts of our history in this country," she said. "The behavior you've seen in all of the clips is not representative of who we are in Michigan."

In addition to Michigan, other states have also seen escalating tensions between government officials and the general public as similar anti-lockdown protests are ongoing.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said a now-reversed face mask mandate was "a bridge too far." Noting that people in his state "were not going to accept the government telling them what to do," the governor said his ability to communicate with Ohioans "was going to be really impeded."

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said "it's too early to tell" if his state will reopen by Memorial Day on May 25. With respect to demonstrations, Murphy said, "I don't begrudge their right to protest," adding that the "biggest issue is they were congregating without face masks."

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves defended steps taken by his state to reopen the economy without meeting the White House's guidelines of two-week decline in cases, saying that situations vary by state.

"You have to understand that Mississippi is different than New York and New Jersey," Reeves said on "Fox News Sunday." "What we have seen is for the last 35-40 days, we've been between 200 and 300 cases without a spike. Our hospital system is not stressed, we have less than 100 people in our state on ventilators."

In terms of the White House guidelines, Reeves said "sometimes the models are just different for different stats ... we believe that particular gating criteria just doesn't work in states like ours."

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