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Pennsylvanians eager to get back to work and end the COVID-19 shutdown that has kept many workers at home for several weeks will rally outside the State Capitol in Harrisburg on Monday, hoping to persuade Gov. Tom Wolf to reopen the state for business.
The rally is scheduled to begin outside the Capitol at noon.
WHTM reports organizers are expecting “thousands of citizens” to “come together to peacefully protest against lockdown restrictions continuing beyond May 1.”
In an online briefing Thursday state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine urged protesters to reconsider attending the event.
“I think if you come to Harrisburg and you’re not practicing social distancing, then you are putting all of yourselves at risk,” she warned.
“We understand that the majority of cases have been in the southeast and northeast, and we’re very pleased that the rest of the state has been less affected by COVID-19, but now is not the time today to relax social distancing,” said Levine.
“That’s the recommendation I would make to anyone planning to come and protest.”
In a statement shared with WHTM, organizing group Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine said that a government “mandating healthy citizens to stay home, forcing businesses and churches to close is called tyranny.”
“Business owners are being forced to lay off employees while the unemployment system is failing those laid off as the economy free falls,” the statement continues. “This is a recipe for disaster with many in our society helpless. We cannot stand by and watch our neighbors suffer while the government considers prolonging these painful conditions.”
The groups organizing the rally, ReOpen Pa, End The Lockdown PA, and Pennsylvania Against Excessive Quarantine, were all formed within the last week, according to the release, which also states they “are not affiliated with any political party, political action group, or any other organization.”
As has been reported elsewhere, coronavirus shutdown protests are a nationwide phenomenon. Organizers in other states have used the same language as seen in the release for the Pennsylvania protest. It was not immediately clear whether these organizations have a formal link outside of sharing verbiage, a question Pennsylvania Capital-Star reporter Stephen Caruso has explored on Twitter, making note of the fact that administrators of the Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine page on Facebook, for instance, appear to be from Minnesota and Iowa and have ties to various pro-gun and anti-abortion groups.
State Rep. Russ Diamond, a Republican from the 102nd District, said Thursday he has accepted an invitation to speak at Monday’s rally, although he said he has “been so busy that I haven’t been able to follow all the details about the event.”
Joel Underwood, who was identified by Diamond as one of the rally organizers, said Friday morning he is a resident of northeast Pennsylvania. He contested claims that the rally is being organized by parties from out-of-state.
“The point of the rally is to pressure the governor and legislature to have a plan in place to support businesses reopening across the commonwealth on May 1st,” he said in an email. “Our goal is to insist that elected officials listen to the will of the people who sent them to Harrisburg and reopen our state’s economy.”
Underwood said 1,300 people have responded to the official event page, indicating they will attend the rally. Others have said they will be there, he added, “without confirming online.”
He’s aware that some people might be concerned about proper “social distancing” during the protest, he said.
“We are encouraging social distancing and for people to remain in their vehicles if they so choose,” Underwood said. “We have a radio broadcast and livestream in the works so people can hear the event speakers from their cars.”
Although no local GOP officials have been involved in organizing the event, Lebanon County Republicans are paying attention to the planned protest, which is likely to provide an outlet for frustration that has been elicited by the expected veto by Gov. Tom Wolf of legislation that would enable the reopening of Pennsylvania businesses if they comply with guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Read More: Facing veto, Lebanon County legislators make case for business reopening bill
Casey Long, chairman of the Lebanon County Republican Committee, sent out an email on Thursday passing along information the upcoming rally.
“We would like to thank our Republican State legislators for their efforts to restore our economy and get Pennsylvanians back to work safely as soon as possible,” Long said in the email. “However, as we all know, our liberal Democrat Governor Tom Wolf is standing in the way, threatening to veto any commonsense action to reopen our state economy. It is now time for all of us to act.”
He said in the email the rally will “send a message to Governor Wolf and his Government bureaucrats that Pennsylvanians have had enough and we are ready to get back to work in a safe manner.”
He, too, said that “thousands of proud Pennsylvanians” are expected to attend.
Long noted in an email to LebTown that he is not an organizer of the event.
Read all of LebTown’s COVID-19 coverage here.
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Davis Shaver contributed reporting to this article.
This article was updated to include comment from organizer Joel Underwood.