Protesters in Albany demand Cuomo reopen NY

A protester stands on State Street in Albany in front of the state Capitol on Wednesday afternoon as part of an Operation Gridlock demonstration against New York’s stay-at-home mandates. (Provided photo — Kate Lisa, Johnson Newspaper Corp.)

ALBANY — The sound was deafening.

Scores of blaring car, air and tractor-trailer horns and people shouting into megaphones surrounded Albany’s Capitol Park on Wednesday afternoon as part of an “Operation Gridlock: Reopen NY” protest demanding Gov. Andrew Cuomo rescind stay-at-home orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cuomo’s 10-point executive order “New York State on Pause,” which mandated the statewide closing of schools, nonessential businesses and social-distancing regulations, remains in effect through May 15. The governor implemented several social-distancing measures last month to flatten the curve, or slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“This is America,” said Dorsey Kuchler Rohrer, 63, of Chenango, outside Syracuse, while holding a “LIVE FREE OR DIE” sign with photos of the Statue of Liberty and a bald eagle with stars and stripes.

A preschool teacher, Rohrer traveled to participate in Wednesday’s demonstration with her daughter, nieces and nephews.

“I was a democratic socialist for 63 years,” she said. “In one week, I became a libertarian and then a revolutionary.”

Hundreds of New Yorkers braved blustery winds for several hours Wednesday as vehicles of all sizes clogged Washington Avenue and State Street. Protesters were armed with American flags, Trump/Pence 2020 campaign flags and memorabilia and homemade signs insisting social-distancing measures are unconstitutional and encroach on civil liberties.

A former Cuomo supporter, Rohrer said she never believed the government would take Americans’ rights away.

“I didn’t think they could take our rights away — never,” Rohrer said. “I trusted the government. I thought they were benevolent. I never believed they would trample on the Bill of Rights.”

Rohrer previously attended four protests against Republican President Donald Trump.

“I never worried about being arrested,” she recalled. “But now, I worry about being arrested for going to the park with my family.”

Wednesday’s protest in Albany was announced on Facebook. A Facebook event for Wednesday’s protest, titled Operation Gridlock, had 110 people RSVP they would attend.

“Come prepared for a gridlock traffic jam outside the capital [sic],” according to the Facebook event listing. “Cuomo wants us New Yorkers to live a life of GRIDLOCK, so we’ll give peaceful gridlock back to Cuomo. Stay in your vehicles when possible to respect social distancing.”

Several protesters said they’ve lived weeks without a paycheck and cannot continue to financially survive under the lockdown. Proponents of reopening New York fear the anticipated deep economic depression could make a world cured of COVID-19 worse than the illness.

“The illness is death. What is worse than death?” Cuomo said in response to the protesters during a briefing Wednesday inside the state Capitol. “The illness may be my death as opposed to your death. How can a cure be worse than the illness if the illness is potential death?”

Many protesters remained in their vehicles but thrust protest signs out open car windows, shouting or blowing air horns. Dozens of others stood outside the Capitol in clusters — most with a group of friends or family members.

Several protesters standing outside wore masks, bandanas or other cloth face coverings for their mouth and nose. Many others did not.

Mark Delgallo, of Schenectady, said social-distancing orders need to be reversed. He compared COVID-19 to the regular flu outbreak.

“It’s the same thing that happens every year,” he said. “It’s a completely normal amount of deaths and hospitalization rates. Doesn’t anybody fact check? Go to the CDC website.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates in this flu season — from Oct. 1, 2019, through April 4, 2020 — the nation had between 39 million and 56 million cases of influenza and 24,000 to 62,000 deaths. The flu’s death rate is typically around 0.1%.

The CDC reported 802,583 cases of COVID-19 with 44,575 deaths across the United States to date, according to cdc.gov. The coronavirus was first detected in humans in Wuhan, China, in December. As of March 3, the World Health Organization estimated COVID-19’s mortality rate to be 3.4% — 34 times that of influenza.

“How about we lock up the media convincing the average person this is something absurd?” said Delgallo, who added he wasn’t wearing a face mask because he wasn’t worried about contracting the virus.

“We have the right to sign up and die in a war, but I don’t have the right to go to work in a dangerous situation?” he said. “I’m not unhealthy. I’m not at risk. Could I contaminate someone else? Sure — just the same as I have all through history. We’ve survived this long. … This is tyranny versus freedom.”

Mark Simmons drove to protest in Albany on Wednesday from his home on Long Island. The government enforcing stay-at-home orders and social distancing is breaking civil liberties, he said.

“They’re slowly but surely taking everybody’s freedom away,” he said. “We want leadership. Even Trump hasn’t done enough in my opinion.”

Simmons said the government is catering to certain corporations or groups, like Walmart or Home Depot, for political gain by hand-selecting which businesses are essential and can remain open.

Simmons said he questions the state’s reported COVID-19 deaths. New York had reported 15,302 COVID-19 fatalities as of Wednesday afternoon.

“They’re classifying everybody that dies as dying from the virus,” Simmons said. “They want to skew the numbers. It’s not right.

“We just want to work and provide a future for our children.”

The COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing quarantine have created many issues for Americans who aren’t sick, including economic hardship, emotional stress and increased rates of domestic violence. Cuomo said those hardships are not as bad, or worse, than death, and staying home is about protecting others more than yourself.

“Yeah, it’s your life, do whatever you want, but you’re now responsible for my life,” Cuomo said. “You have a responsibility to me. It’s not just about you. It’s not about me — it’s about we. It’s not just about you. It’s about me, too.”


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