JEFFERSON CITY — Ike Skelton hopes he never has to use the wooden pitchfork he brought to Tuesday’s protest against Missouri’s stay-at-home order, but said he will exercise his right to do so if need be.


Skelton carried his symbol of humble protest against tyranny among the hundreds who joined a Reopen Missouri rally Tuesday at the state capitol.


The event is one of many held across the country in recent days, all with a common message — a call to end restrictive measures put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19.


"We should not be living under fear and tyranny," Skelton said. "It is unnecessary to have shut down the state. It doesn't need to go on any longer, not even to May 4. It just needs to end now."


Josh Schisler, one of the event’s organizers, said allowing people at low risk of the adverse effects of the virus to return to work, while keeping the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions at home, is the way state officials should address the pandemic.


"There are other vulnerable people too, like people who live paycheck to paycheck, or people who are losing their business or employees," Schisler said.


Social distancing guidelines were thrown to the wind amid the crowd. Few maintained a distance of 6 feet from others and few masks were seen.


As protesters rallied at the capitol, 2018 Democratic congressional candidate Renee Hoagenson hosted a Missourians for a Safe Economic Recovery counter-rally on social media, with about 200 participating and another 1,300 views afterward.


Hoagenson said everyone wants businesses to reopen and people to go back to work, but doing so carelessly could result in more people dying.


"No one wants this shutdown, but the important thing is we don't end it arbitrarily because people are impatient or want to proclaim their rights," Hoagenson said. "You don't have the right to infect other people and the courts have upheld that since the 1918 pandemic."


At a news conference in the capitol just a short time after the protests ended, Parson asked for patience. The state will start to open up soon. It is a simple prescription to stop the spread of the disease, he said.


Parson set May 3 as the last day of the stay-at-home order. He said Tuesday that the next set of guidelines will allow almost all businesses to reopen, with some limitations.


Until then, he said, he wants people to be safe.


"What we have been asking people all along is to stay home," Parson said.


Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said the protesters needed to be more careful about social distancing and safety.


"To protest is fine, but you need to do it responsibly," Williams said. "It is not only you who could get infected but you could infect others."


At the capitol, near Skelton and his pitchfork, many protesters waved the Gadsden Flag, the symbol of the American Tea Party movement. They shouted at the capitol dome to end the order. A fully-costumed Paul Revere strolled onto the scene with a Christian banner, much to the delight of the crowd nearby.


A man in a superhero cape, dressed in red, white and blue garb, jogged down the street shouting the order must end. Others passed him in vehicles, including some church buses, honking and carrying signs — some reading that death is preferred to a lessening of freedoms.


Other signs stated simply that those carrying them want to return to work, church and school. Rebekah Bartlett was set to graduate this spring and she will, but without a prom, a traditional ceremony or other fanfare her classmates before her received.


"It took me four years to get to where I am and all of it just got ripped away because of this virus," Bartlett said.


Capitol Police walked by, but did not intervene, following Parson’s guidance that if people want to protest, let them.


State Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, took to a microphone and asked the crowd rhetorically why they were there. Responses varied, but the gist was in opposition to the "tyranny" inherent in the mandated restrictions.


On Friday, he introduced legislation to end the state stay-at-home order and he asked those at the rally to call their representatives and tell them to support it as well.


"What this resolution does is in effect terminate the state of emergency called by the governor and will terminate the stay-at-home order that has trickled down to the cities and counties across the state," Moon said.


About the time Moon was speaking, Sara El-Toumi, owner of Salon Nefisa in Columbia, met virtually with Hoagenson for the online rally and told viewers how the virus has affected her business.


El-Toumi said just eight days before the pandemic erupted locally she opened a second location. She employs 27 people. When the revenue dried up it was disheartening, as most had to file for unemployment.


In the meantime, she is busy planning for the reopen and the changes necessary to ensure everyone is safe.


"It is so hard when people ask when, and want some measure of certainty when there is so much uncertainty," El-Toumi said. "I think that is what keeps us all very anxious and in a holding pattern watching the data and the science. I, of course, want to open as soon as possible."


Sam McAninch is a critical care nurse in Greene County and also joined Hoagenson. She described what nurses in emergency rooms are seeing and how a lack of testing could lead to severe consequences if state officials heed pressure to lift the stay-at-home order too early.


"Reported cases are probably only a fraction of what’s out there because we haven't tested enough people," McAninch said. "States all over the country have reported they don't have enough testing supplies and enough staff to notify people who have come in contact with someone who is positive.


"Without that test it's going to be really hard to reopen the state safely, if we can’t isolate people."


State Rep. Jim Neely, R-Cameron, had a different opinion. A physician at Cameron Regional Medical Center, Neely said he’s seen a lot of severe illness over the years and while COVID-19 is concerning, the devastation has been inflated.


He said the state should reopen and people should use common sense, such as staying away from others if ill and washing their hands.


"If you’re ill stay away," Neely said. "If you're not, get on with your life."


ppratt@columbiatribune.com


573-819-1718


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