ORLANDO, Fla. — More than 100 people gathered in downtown Orlando holding signs and chanting a call to reopen the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The rally took place directly outside the Orange County Administration Building as officials inside provided updates on the COVID-19 pandemic as it relates to Central Florida.
The group Reopen Florida, created by resident Tara Hill, helped organize the rally to send the message to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Hill said she would like to see the state “completely open by May 1st with absolutely no restrictions on the movement of Floridians. We are free people.”
“A mass rally shows the governor that,” she told Eyewitness News. “Many people want this, many Floridians -- it’s not just a small fringe group. Many Floridians - I’m seeing young people, older people, I saw a pregnant woman over there.”
The rally started with about 60 people but eventually doubled in size outside the Orange County Administration Building. The crowd chanted things like “Today!” and “Open up the state!" Their signs read for calls to action such as “Stop the madness, save lives.”
One sign accused Dr. Anthony Fauci of lying about the pandemic.
When asked about if she’s worried about asymptomatic people, Hill said, "I’m not too concerned about that because I trust the people of Florida to make their own healthcare and risk decisions. "
“If they would like to wear a masks, if they would like to practice social distancing, that is completely up to them and we completely honor them,” Hill said. “We just don’t think it should be mandated. And we don’t think the economy should tumble into a mess to try to keep people safe.”
Orlando police said the protesters did not file for a special permit required for a gathering of more than 100.
The crowd did not appear to be abiding by social distancing guidelines and staying 6 feet apart.
When asked about the protest during a news conference Friday, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said, “It’s much of a circus.”
“Perhaps one person has the right to risk their own health and safety, but they don’t have the right to risk the health and safety of others," Demings said.
He said that he saw protesters were “taking it lightly” and not wearing masks nor practicing social distancing.
“I think that’s a tragedy, particularly since we know 21 people died from the virus,” Demings said. “I wouldn’t want to play Russian roulette with myself like that. It’s not fun and games. This is serious stuff we’re dealing with in this community. I would suggest to them to take it seriously."
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer also chimed in, saying, “There are some people that don’t accept science or facts, and I suspect that’s a bunch of them that’s out front. What I’d probably do is suggest that they have an opportunity to speak with family members of somebody who has died from COVID-19. Maybe that would wake them up a little bit.”
Orange County Sheriff John Mina said the social distancing order has not been enforced due to the first amendment and right to protest.
See what county leaders said below:
At the end of the rally, the group gathered tightly for a group photo.
“The sad part could be that, next week, I could be announcing there are cases related to that event,” Orange County Health Officer Dr. Raul Pino said.
President Donald Trump has outlined a plan to reopen the country over several steps. You can read it here.
Similar rallies took place across the country. See video below:
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