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More than 500 in Reopen Nevada protest business closures

Updated April 18, 2020 - 8:55 pm

Hundreds of people waved American flags and cheered slogans such as “Who wants to protect small business?” and “Churches are essential” on Saturday afternoon in protest of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s order closing nonessential businesses.

In Las Vegas, members of what’s billed as the Reopen Nevada Group met at 1 p.m. at the Sawyer Building downtown after a nearly two-hour car caravan from spots along Las Vegas Boulevard North. Las Vegas police estimated that at least 500 people attended.

In Carson City, hundreds lined the main drag outside government buildings while dozens of cars and trucks sporting American flags and “Trump 2020” stickers drove back and forth honking for more than an hour.

In Southern Nevada

Reopen Nevada members said they were protesting Sisolak “for his failure to follow President (Donald) Trump’s actions to commence a plan to reopen our country, specifically Nevada,” but many took it as an opportunity simply to celebrate the president.

The gathering came two days after Trump’s coronavirus task force issued “Opening Up America Again” guidelines for governors that suggest a three-phase approach to reopening businesses and schools. And it happened one day after Trump tweeted that demonstrators should “liberate” certain locked-down states.

Amid gun holsters and American flags, it was difficult Saturday to find a person not wearing Trump-related paraphernalia. Residents joked about social distancing. There were almost no masks and gloves visible among the crowd of several hundred.

Desiree Ryan, 46, and her daughter Mikayla, 19, of Spring Valley, said they think that the closures were unnecessary and that the virus is being blown out of proportion.

“It’s not right to force people to be closed. We should go back to work,” Desiree said. “It’s statistically impossible to not be sick based on the death rates they’re saying.”

The total number of cases in Clark County jumped again Saturday morning to 2,882 infected, with 133 deaths.

Desiree and her husband work in fields that have been deemed essential, but her husband had to take a pay cut because of casino closures. Desiree was excited by the crowd Saturday.

“They’re tired of Sisolak,” she said of attendees. “This shows a lot of people are not behind Sisolak.”

Both Ryan women wore Make America Great Again hats and held handwritten signs.

“I want to fight for my friend’s right to have a prom and a graduation. Her sister had one; I had one. It’s not fair for her,” Mikayla said.

The Clark Country School District announced late Friday that all graduations will be postponed, though details will be determined by each school.

Wetonia Houlihan, 47, and her husband Mike, 55, who live on the south side of Las Vegas, said that they’re ready for the state to reopen but that they showed up Saturday simply for their love of Trump.

“The conservative side doesn’t show up much; most people are worried about being seen,” she said.

The couple said they believe the shutdown is intended to cause a recession, which will be blamed on the president to damage his reputation.

The couple said they haven’t seen their daughter in weeks and did take some precautions early on.

“He’s immunocompromised,” Wetonia said of her husband. “So we stocked up on canned goods and stayed home for a full 30 days. We’ve done our part.”

Brad Rau, 52, of northeast Las Vegas, said that as a gunsmith, he has orders piling up amid the fear, which he said is unnecessary and hurting the local economy.

“When the cure is worse than disease, it’s time to put an end to it. Just wash your hands and don’t touch your face,” he said, referencing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC also recommends that people use cloth face covers in public and avoid mass gatherings.

The crowds began to dwindle after about an hour, when Las Vegas police officers arrived to control traffic, but among the many with horns, a call was put out for residents to counter a “left-wing protest” happening May 1.

In Northern Nevada

In Carson City, Brandon Camp, 50, stood just off the street Saturday holding a red-and-white-striped banner with the Patrick Henry quote “Give me liberty or give me death” emblazoned on it.

Camp said he was there because “people are being hurt more by the shutdown than they are by the virus.”

He said he believes that if there were “no news about the coronavirus, we would chalk this up as a bad year of the flu.”

Stephanie Jensen, 51, wore a face covering but said she was not worried about getting infected because “there’s probably no one here with it.”

She said she views the restrictions in place to blunt the spread of the virus, like the shutdown of nonessential businesses, as an infringement on civil rights.

“This can’t be the only way to deal with this,” she said.

Jensen cited low hospitalization numbers in Washoe County, saying they show that most people “can weather this without needing hospitalization.”

Washoe County officials this past week said that data and modeling appear to show that things are heading in the right direction, with lower-than-expected need for hospital beds.

And they credited those successes in containing the spread of the virus to public adherence to health officials’ guidance and social distancing standards.

Nevada’s nonessential businesses are expected to remain closed at least through April 30.

Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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