Mask Misinformation Looms as School Year Begins

Clad in a pride t-shirt and a purple cloth mask, teary-eyed Kristie Kodos asked, “Why should my kid’s rights not matter more than anybody else’s?” 

Kodos, the mother of an immunocompromised 6-year-old, attended the Smart Science Alliance protest on August 13. Parents, children and teenagers gathered outside the Kent County Health Department, fully masked and six feet apart, to demonstrate their support for a school mask mandate. The group was formed on Facebook by concerned Kent County residents “who would like to promote science-based decisions regarding Kent County public schools.” 

Kodos said her son is in the special education program and benefits from the in-person school.

Demonstration participant displays a sign reading “I Deserve a Safe School!”

“He needs that socialization. He needs the services that he gets through a public school. He deserves that.” Pointing to her mask, she said, “I don’t like wearing this either, but if it keeps everyone in the classroom safe, I don’t see why it’s such a big deal.”

The Smart Science Alliance group was met with a counterprotest. American flags, loudspeakers, and chants demanding “no more masks” dominated the opposite side of the Fulton Street crosswalk. Although the pro-mask protest was scheduled for noon, and the counterprotest for 11 a.m., they outnumbered pro-mask demonstrators well into the afternoon. 

Many counterprotesters also voiced their opposition to the COVID-19 vaccination. Some were wary of excess government control. Others feared sacrificing personal freedoms. But for former geologist Sean Cordier, the issue is more personal. He held a neon green sign that read, “My father died 5 days after vaccination mandated by New Mexico VA what CHOICE do I have???”

“My father was told he would no longer receive healthcare if he was not vaccinated,” Cordier said. “Most of these people are out here because the government and the media are not listening to us.” 

Healthcare workers joined the crowd on both sides of the Fuller Street crosswalk. Amanda Bradford works in the dental field at a health clinic downtown. She held a colorful sign reading, “Health care workers against kids mask.” 

“Masks don’t work,” she said. “It’s a bacterial trap. [If masks did work] we wouldn’t still be in a pandemic. Why are people still dying when they’re masking?” 

Bradford elects for natural protections against COVID-19 rather than wearing a mask or receiving the vaccination. 

“I am pro-vaccine, but I am not going to take a vaccine that the FDA does not approve and a vaccine that’s made people sick,” she said, before the vaccine received full approval. “There’s healthy alternative treatments to the vaccine. I’ve been taking Zinc, probiotics, vitamin C, vitamin D, getting a lot of sleep, cutting down on sugar. Those all boost your immune system and help to stay healthy.”

Bradford cited America’s Frontline Doctors, saying there’s a growing number of healthcare workers speaking out against masks and the COVID-19 vaccination. This organization, one whose founder stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, advocates against the COVID-19 vaccination because it’s experimental. This is a claim made in spite of the vaccination’s extensive safety and efficacy trials, and recent FDA approval. 

Registered nurse Shelly Johnson, who was “embarrassed” by the lack of good information at the protest, and physician Dr. Abha Gupta Varma are health care workers who expressed a different view than Bradford.

“Vaccines do work,” Varma said. “To suggest vaccines don’t work is to disregard the current data which is this: in our health systems around the country, who are entering the hospital, 90% are among those who are unvaccinated, and of those dying in the ICU, 99.9% are among the unvaccinated.”

Varma’s claims echo data compiled by the New York Times about vaccine effectiveness. Even with a surge in cases from the more transmissible Delta variant, only 1.1% of Michigan’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated individuals. 

Over honking cars demonstrating their support and the hum of passionate protesters, Varma asked, “When did masking become not safe, but political?”