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Santa Rosa protest targets restrictions in response to coronavirus

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Contempt for shelter-in-place orders, restricted access to parks and beaches, prolonged closures of workplaces and schools, and other aspects of state and local government responses to the pandemic spilled noisily into downtown Santa Rosa on Saturday afternoon.

About 200 protesters gathered along Third Street on the southern edge of Old Courthouse Square to rally for an end to what some described as excessively extreme and unnecessarily damaging measures to counter the coronavirus.

Holding aloft one of the more whimsical protest signs — “I need a haircut” — John Howard of Santa Rosa said he came out “to show solidarity with people who are mad as hell that this is going on so long.”

The 68-year-old retired software engineer said it is reasonable to protect vulnerable individuals from contracting the virus that causes COVID-19. But, he added, “Let the rest of us go.

“It’s crazy to cripple the economy,” Howard declared. “I think it’s a power grab.”

Freedom-themed amplified music and supportive horn blasts from passing drivers created a cacophonous soundtrack to the demonstration. Participants waved American and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags and let handmade signs express their frustration with they regard as destructive overkill by California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Sonoma County Public Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase.

Among the printed slogans:

“What happened to freedom?”

“Sonoma County has 248 cases, 2 deaths — It’s not an epidemic”

“Stop the shutdown”

“The curve is flat, now open up”

“We are being maced by Dr. Mase”

“Live free or die”

The printing on a popular red T-shirt resembling a Coca-Cola logo read, “Enjoy Covid-19: Hysteria Never Tasted So Sweet.”

At one point Ken McKenzie of Santa Rosa strode along Third Street and thanked the demonstrators for standing up for freedom.

Minutes later he said in an interview, “Do you know there have only two deaths (in Sonoma County)? Does it make any sense to shut down all the jobs?”

Public officials have stressed that the local caseload has remained low because residents have largely heeded the stay-at-home order and prevented the disease from circulating widely in the community. To date, the majority of the cases confirmed in the county have contracted the disease from close contact with someone known to have been sick.

McKenzie said that though “we’ve still got to be careful,” the restrictions in place now are unnecessarily devastating to workers and others.

Also on the street Saturday was Chip Worthington, pastor of the Rohnert Park Assembly of God.

“It’s time to open the church,” he said above the din of the protest. “When you don’t have people together, you lose momentum.”

Worthington added, “It’s a cliche that the cure is worse than the sickness.”

You can contact Chris Smith at 707 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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