On the Philadelphia region’s first weekend under loosened COVID-19 restrictions, Marquis Green ventured out, joining thousands who gathered on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway Saturday for a peaceful protest in George Floyd’s name.
Green, 22, a law student from Los Angeles quarantining with family in Philadelphia, wore an N95 mask to protect himself, but his concerns for racial justice were weightier than any worries about COVID-19.
“This movement is bigger than anything,” Green said. “I’m glad all the young people are out. It’s a cause that’s bigger than life.”
Philadelphia and its surrounding counties on Friday entered the yellow phase under Gov. Tom Wolf’s coronavirus reopening plan, which lifts stay-at-home orders for “aggressive mitigation,” permitting businesses to reopen, but limiting many to 50% capacity.
Pennsylvania reported 701 additional positive COVID-19 cases Saturday, for a total of 75,086 statewide, with 5,931 deaths. With 606 new cases reported Saturday, New Jersey’s total reached 163,893, with the death toll at 12,106.
Roman Catholic churches resumed in-person Mass, with parishioners over age 2 required to wear masks, families at a six-foot distance from each other, and limited singing. Church capacity was cut in half, and congregants skipped making contact during the Sign of Peace.
Catholic officials have said they believe religious services are considered essential, and thus permitted to operate, despite continuing restrictions on indoor gatherings.
In-person religious services are still banned in New Jersey, with indoor gatherings limited to 10 people or fewer; state officials have said they will consider relaxing restrictions for such services the weekend of June 12 if health metrics permit.
A Berlin, Camden County, church has filed a lawsuit in federal court, challenging New Jersey’s ban on church attendance of more than 10 people. The church contends that the state is violating its First Amendment rights.
The pandemic did not deter tens of thousands from joining marches and protests across the region, from Bristol to Delran, and multiple sites in Philadelphia.
Under a hot Saturday sun, officials from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health passed out masks to protesters.
David Suisman, 50, of Queen Village, wore a bandanna around his face and said he was trying to socially distance as much as possible during the protest.
“I’m here because I believe strongly in trying to correct years of injustice. I believe this is an opportunity for change," Suisman said.
Jaslyn McIntosh’s mother and sister wanted to attend last weekend’s protests, but feared the health risks. So this weekend, McIntosh, who is 24, rallied her friends to make 200 supply packs for protesters stuffed with water, a snack, a mask, gloves, and first-aid supplies.
“The least I can do is find some PPE so protesters can protect themselves,” said 25-year-old Charlotte Morris, who took the lead on securing donations. “The pandemic is already affecting black and brown people disproportionately, and they’re putting themselves in more danger at protests.”
Cynthia Meadors, 34, and Derek Kelly, 30, said they felt as if being a part of this movement was worth any potential coronavirus exposure.
They also said they felt as if the group had taken a lot of safety precautions.
“By far the majority of people are wearing masks,” said Meadors, of Fishtown. “Which is tough because it’s so hot.”
Kelly said he was minimizing touching, and was using plenty of hand sanitizer.
“In the heat of the moment it’s easy to forget we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” said Meadors, who participated in Monday’s and Tuesday’s protests too. “But people are shouting lots of reminders about it.”