Standing together, often without masks, protestors in Salem demand Oregon drop virus restrictions

A woman waves a flag at the Capitol during a rally in support of reopening Oregon on Saturday, May 2. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

SALEM – Hundreds of Oregonians gathered at the Capitol Saturday to protest restrictions intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The Oregon rally was the latest in a series across the country demanding that governors allow businesses to reopen and lift stay-at-home orders. 

Those attending complained of government overreach as the state’s restrictions stretch into a seventh week with no end date set. Gov. Kate Brown on Friday revealed more details of what she and her health advisers think needs to happen before she relents on her orders, now extended until July. Her plan requires more robust statewide testing to detect COVID-19 and continued declines in the number of Oregonians infected.

But her announcement wasn’t enough to dissuade those who traveled to Salem to insist she act quicker.

The rally formed as the Oregon Health Authority disclosed that five more people have died from the respiratory disease, pushing the state total to 109. The state said 2,635 people have tested positive.

By midday Saturday, cars drove by the Capitol honking their horns while people cheered and held signs in the pouring rain. 

The event was organized by Oregon Uniting for Liberty, which on its website cites constitutional education as its main goal.

Craig Etton said he wasn’t planning to participate to Saturday’s event but changed his mind when Brown extended the coronavirus state of emergency by 60 days. He said he was protesting the lack of due process with Brown’s executive order. 

The West Linn resident works in construction and has been continued working because the industry is classified as essential. 

“I’m out here more for people who can’t go back to work,” he said

 Etton, 68, was one of the few in the crowd at the rally wearing a mask. He said he still respects the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

“When this all started I felt there was a time and place for stricter restrictions, but now it’s no longer,” he said. “The decisions that I see being made seem to be arbitrary. It’s just (Brown’s) doing it because she can.” 

Etton said if businesses were given the opportunity to reopen they would do so safely. 

Sheralyn Kemp of Corvallis said she came to the rally because of people suffering from job losses or the inability to get medical procedures, like ports for chemotherapy.

“This is not trivial. It is essential to let people live their lives,” she said through a cloth mask.

Kemp is retired but said her son lost his job in technology and hasn’t gotten word about when he would receive his state unemployment benefits. The state Employment Department has been overwhelmed by the filings and has added staff and soon will open yet another office to process the claims.

More than 360,000 Oregonians have sought unemployment benefits since the governor in March ordered restaurants and bars to restrict service to take out and directed other businesses such as theaters and barbers close.

Kemp said Oregon doesn’t have a problem with coronavirus but that Marion, Multnomah and Washington counties do. 

As of Saturday, May 2, the Oregon Health Authority reported that Multnomah had 734 positive cases, Marion had 523 and Washington had 509. Clackamas County has had 224 positive cases while the rest of the counties in Oregon have seen less than 100, according to state data. 

“It’s just so many people hurting. (Brown) is killing the vibrancy of Oregon,” Kemp said. “We should open everything we can open except the hot spots. It’s for people’s livelihoods and the good of the people. This is not about getting a haircut. This is about being able to save lives.”

Martin Hoogendijk and his 2-year-old son drove from Tigard to attend because he said he’s concerned the governor has gone overboard. 

Hoogendijk works in tech and can work from home, but said he attended to support those who have lost their jobs.

He said Oregon shouldn’t have joined a pact with other Western states to coordinate reopening businesses in the region and modify stay-at-home orders. Hoogendijk said Oregon isn’t seeing the same number of cases as larger cities like Seattle and Los Angeles. 

“We just don’t see that same problem, so it doesn’t make sense to align ourselves,” he said.

He said when the outbreak started, the restrictions were meant to ensure hospitals weren’t overwhelmed with the forecasted surge. Now, he said, there are hospitals that are empty as non-essential medical procedures have been postponed. 

Brown lifted her restriction on such procedures effective Friday, May 1.

Western States Center, a Portland advocacy group that promotes diversity, quickly issued a statement Saturday afternoon urging the protesters’ demands be rejected.

“Today’s protest in Salem is a continuation of a series of reckless events promoting fringe and extremist groups at the expense of public health,” the group said in a statement. “We are still in the midst of a pandemic that has killed more than 60,000 Americans. Public health professionals and elected officials, not armed extremists, must decide when it’s safe for communities to lift social distancing rules.”

Demonstrators gather at the Capitol during a rally in support of reopening Oregon and relaxing social distancing measures on Saturday, May 2. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Demonstrators gather at the Capitol during a rally in support of reopening Oregon and relaxing social distancing measures on Saturday, May 2. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Demonstrators gather at the Capitol during a rally in support of reopening Oregon and relaxing social distancing measures on Saturday, May 2. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)