Community members threaten those who support health protocols to prevent spread of COVID
By Emma DeMarco and Caden Meyers
“No masks for the kids. If you keep pushing this crap, we are going to find you people and tie a full mask to your face for years to come. Leave my children alone or you will be dealing with me."
Administrative assistant at University of Michigan Bailey Oland checked his Facebook to find this comment left on one of his posts in support of wearing masks at Walled Lake Schools as the district deliberated implementing a mask mandate a week before this school year.
Andrew Miller, a vocal anti-vaxxer, left this comment and shocked Oland, who feared for himself and his loved ones at the start of this school year. This was not Miller’s first time threatening someone who disagreed with him about masking, as he was issued a restraining order by Walled Lake Consolidated School District after threatening the superintendent in a letter and posting the superintendent’s home address.
Odell felt puzzled by the rage of some anti-mask/anti-vaxxers as the numbers of COVID-19 cases had grown from a 7-day average under 700 in early July to a seven-day average of over 1500 by early September, and in November Michigan became the number one COVID hot spot in the nation.
When speaking at the August 17 Birmingham Board of Education meeting, Christina Odell expressed why she was also enraged by the mandatory masking procedures in school.
“I'm really surprised that you are carrying out this hoax. You know this is from Whitmer. You know this is from the health department. You know this is from Oakland County. You know this is from Biden You know this is from Barack and Kamala and Washington D.C.. You know this is from the CDC and Fauci. You know this is a hoax. I don’t want to be compromised because of someone else's fear. This [the severity of COVID] is manufactured,” Odell said.
Screenshot of BPS Board of Education Meeting, August 17
Vocal anti-vaxxer and anti-masker Christina Odell speaks at the Birmingham Public School District board meeting on October 17. In her speech, she mocked mask wearers and compared this current situation to the Marxist agenda. She wears her nametag on the side of her arm, an ode to Nazi soldiers who wore their swastikas' armbands in the same place. Odell referred to COVID as a hoax, and not something to fret about. “It’s a virus, a germ; unfortunate, but you'll survive,” Odell said.
On November 22, Michigan's 7-day average was 8,153 new cases, with 2,124 in just Oakland County and a total of 21,596 deaths . Epidemiologists predict this fourth wave in Michigan will rise as we go into the holiday season.
Science teacher Cynthia Sherman lost close relatives to COVID-19 before the August board meeting, and with the deaths of five relatives and friends in just a few months, Sherman understands the emotional toll of the virus. Among those five, Sherman lost her brother’s godmother and father.
“That was sad because it was both of them. I couldn’t even imagine; I thought about the kids and how terrible it was to lost both their parents. Here, my family was attending a Zoom funeral. Meanwhile, it felt like everyone else was calling it a hoax, and asking ‘Why are we even doing this?’ We watched the board meetings where there was so much commotion. Meanwhile, my family was not even able to really properly grieve or be with our other family members, so that was very difficult,” Sherman said.
Sherman thinks that those who are against COVID-19 protections have just not lost anyone to the virus yet.
Speakers at the August 19 Birmingham board meeting suggested that this was true.
Another young speaker at the meeting noted that because she and her family had COVID twice and were still alive, COVID could not possibly be a deadly illness.
A website, titled “sorryantivaxxer.com”, shares the stories of how outspoken anti-vaxxers lost their lives to COVID. The website publishes a lengthy list of people who died of COVID despite the availability of vaccines. In many stories on this website, both the family members of the victim and the victims themselves, just before their passing, shared their regret for not getting the vaccine and advised others to get it. Kevin McKenzie was a 33-year-old anti-vaxxer from Senoia, Georgia, who made posts comparing our situation to communism. Unfortunately, McKenzie contracted COVID and sent a tweet out while in the hospital. He wrote, “I want everyone to do something for me that I was too stubborn to do. If you haven't done so, go get your COVID vaccine. When I was getting admitted into the hospital, there were four different doctors who told me they had not had to admit one single vaccinated person. Trust me, you don’t wanna be where I am now. As soon as I get over this, I’ll be getting my vaccine.”
He died a week later.
Sherman wishes the parents who are enraged by the district’s mask mandate would do more research into those who have died from COVID, despite not believing COVID was deadly.
“These tragic stories are preventable. It’s a common belief among those who don’t support the vaccine that the shot is harmful, and is ‘giving you COVID’. This claim is false,” Sherman said.
Before coming to Groves to teach, Sherman worked in an epidemiology lab, learning about epidemics and how they spread.
“The vaccine doesn't make any permanent alterations of a cell's DNA. People say ‘Oh but you’re giving us COVID’, but they are actually giving you the spike protein, so the COVID virus is not able to replicate and make more of itself. I think there’s a misunderstanding because there are other vaccines that are inactive parts of the virus itself, like the flu. With the COVID vaccine, we’re not getting any part of the virus. We're just getting the instructions to the ribosomes. The immune system is now able to familiarize and recognize the spike proteins, so they are able to attack it more effectively if you are ever exposed, or it enters your body. So, I mean, it's just giving your body awareness of what it looks like on a cellular level so it's able to attack it sooner,” Sherman said.
Chief of Emergency Medicine at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, Dr. Christopher Colwell, has been treating infected patients since the beginning of the pandemic. Colwell believes the vaccine is the most essential piece in ridding our nation of this virus.
“The vaccine is by far the most effective way we have of fighting this pandemic by a substantial margin. It is very effective at preventing serious illness and death. The people that we're seeing now that are getting sick, needing to come to the hospital, needing to be put on ventilators, or dying, are essentially 100% not vaccinated. We've had to admit a few vaccinated people to the hospital, but they've done very well, and they typically have been older with underlying medical conditions who would have done terribly prior to the vaccine. I can say very confidently that the vaccine has never hurt when it comes to contracting COVID,” Colwell said. “Not a single vaccinated person in the Bay Area has died that we are aware of.”
Colwell believes many healthcare workers will remain traumatized after all the casualties they had to witness.
“It's hard to describe somebody who is not able to get their breath. You can literally feel the body unable to get the oxygen that it needs, and becoming more and more desperate to get that breath. COVID has been one of the diseases that, when it has gotten bad, it's basically left us in a situation where we can't get enough oxygen to the body, and we sadly watch that patient die right in front of us. We've had to see that far too often, and it's extraordinarily difficult for the health care providers, and it's obviously devastating for the patient and their families,” Colwell said. “We've seen terrible things that have happened to arms and legs that required them to be amputated. We've seen abscesses and other types of infections that go on to get secondarily infected by bacteria, and we’ve seen devastating cranial abscesses and other things. All of these are a result of the virus weakening the human body and making it not able to defend itself against other things.”
Colwell stated that masks were the second most important piece in preventing spread.
“Of all the things we can do outside of vaccinations to protect ourselves, masks are the best. We’re also learning that better masks work better. A cloth over your face is probably better than nothing, but it's not going to be anywhere near as effective as a surgical mask or particularly some of the better masks, like the N-95,” Colwell said.
Odell argued against this idea and expressed her anger that many teachers were asking for uniform masking across the district. She pointed to her unmasked face and mimicked someone wearing a mask.
“The teachers knew when they were taking teaching positions that children got sick. They had choices, right? But we had to pay them for this last year to stay home with all of their benefits because they're fearful that they might get a germ from a child. They knew that this is what the job held in store for them potentially. Their choice, I’m not sorry,” Odell said.
. Colwell responded to the outcry against mandatory masking by saying that neither teachers nor healthcare workers should be exposed to previously unvaccinated and unmasked citizens.
“Over this past year, these are now almost all preventable deaths,” Colwell said.
Birmingham parent Andrea Childrens agrees with Colwell and came to the Birmingham board meeting to thank the board for mandating masks, while noting the extreme polarization in the district between pro and anti-mask and vaccine populations.
“This is a very divided, volatile climate in these two rooms,” Childrens said. “But, by providing these recommendations, you are supporting families who don’t have an option. I’m in healthcare, and those who choose not to mask or vaccinate have a predominately healthy family. I’ve lost family through this. I’m at risk. Our caregivers are at risk. This means a lot to have the support. My kindergartner is my biggest transmission risk. For those who don’t have a choice to not mask, please help us by wearing a mask. Helps parents keep their kids at school and not bring COVID home. Last thing we want is our children to be ill or pass away, so it’s about the greater good and not to be so divided. Let’s band together and end this.”
Dr. Kathryn Ziegler, a surgeon at Beaumont Royal Oak with a masters in microbiology, followed Childrens at the board meeting, concerned for her children, one in kindergarten and another in third grade at Beverly Hills.
“I applaud the superintendent’s decision to mandate masks for our children who are not able to be vaccinated. There are some parents among us, and some board members perhaps, who would like the decision of whether to mask each child be left into the hands of each child’s parents, but, unfortunately, that is not how public health works. Masking doesn’t protect a classroom of children if only some of the children wear masks. It is critical for each child to be masked to protect the good of the group. It’s like the analogy of a passenger on a boat cutting a hole in his own cabin, claiming the freedom to doing what he wants in his own cabin, but the boat fills with water and puts everyone else in danger. I teach my children that masks are an expression of kindness. If we can save one kid in our class from a terrible illness. ” Children's said.
At this point Dr. Ziegler’s voice was drowned out by outcries from parents who were angry about the district mask mandate, and for the sixth time at the meeting, board member Lori Ajlouny tried to quiet the crowd. “Excuse me, Ladies and gentlemen, please contain yourself,” Ajlouny said, and Dr. Zielger continued.
“So perhaps the elephant in the room is that COVID 19 is not a danger to children. Many have used that as an explanation as to why they do not want their children wearing masks in the classroom, but the Delta variant is a game changer,” Ziegler said.
Again, parents angry about the mask mandate tried to shout over the her while Ajlouny advised Zeigler to continue and to ignore those parents.
“I have been following the epidemiology of this variant and just this week 100,000 kids tested positive,” Ziegler said. “Don’t be tempted to look at these children as numbers. Because the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Children with severe COVID develop lung failure, heart damage, kidney damage, abnormalities in blood clotting and multi-organ system failure. Many have developed long COVID with symptoms that persist for a long time. It spreads easily in a room full of unvaccinated, unmasked people.”
Photo by Chadwick Cole
Immunologist and pediatrician, Chad Mayor, notes what he saw as a dual crisis in the community. “We have a clinical, scientific illiteracy and the inability to understand science, which led to people forming their opinions. People saying ‘Do your own research. You should be able to research and figure out if this is real’ has been a problem. We have the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Michigan Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC all recommending children and everyone to wear masks,” Mayor said.
After Ziegler, another a board-certified doctor, Chad Mayor, who is also an immunologist and pediatrician, noted what he saw as dual crisis in the community.
“We have a clinical, scientific illiteracy and the inability to understand science, which led to people forming their opinions. People saying ‘Do your own research. You should be able to research and figure out if this is real’ has been a problem. We have the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Michigan Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC all recommending children and everyone to wear mask. Their sole existence is to support children’s’ well-being, physical and mental health,” Mayor said. “There is not science out there that shows mask is dangerous.”
One parent called out, “You are not a scientist.”
Mayor turned to the parent and said, “Excuse me? I am an immunology and respiratory specialist. I specialize in asthma. I have been wearing a mask since I was nineteen. People coming up to this podium and saying, ‘We don’t believe scientist’ need to listen to the scientist, and if you do not, you will ignore what is keeping people safe.”
Parent Luke Humphrey, who followed Dr. Ziegler, felt offended by many of Ziegler’s statements and threatened to remove his family from the Birmingham district after the district decided to require masking.
“To stand here and say that we are too stupid to figure out what’s real and what isn’t is pretty condescending,” Humphrey said. “Why did the World Health Organization change the definition of herd immunity? Why does that no longer include natural immunity from having the COVID virus? At the end of the year the CDC will remove emergency use status on tests that do not differentiate between flu and Corona virus.”
Humphrey continued to list statistics from MDHHS reporting on the 2018-2019 flu season, citing outbreaks that were higher before COVID and became zero outbreaks after COVID. Humphrey ended with a quote from C. S. Lewis: “Of all the tyrannies, the tyrannies sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral, busy-bodies,” Humphrey quoted.
Groves junior Emma Moskovitz was one of the last to thank the board for deciding to mandate masking this school year.
“I have been in the Birmingham district since kindergarten, and I want to thank you so very much for enforcing masks this year. When we were hybrid last year, I went back to school for two-ish days, and there were very few who actually wore their masks correctly and very little social distancing, so I was worried, so I went back home,” Moskovitz said. “ To all those people here who are saying, ‘I don’t want to wear a mask’. You are not listening. Wearing a mask is not about keeping you safe. It’s about keeping the people around you safe. When you choose not to wear a mask, you are making a choice and that choice not to protect those around you.”
As with other speakers, Moskovitz’s public comment was interrupted by vocalizations of disgust from parents who were angry with the mask mandate. Unlike many other speakers, Moskovitz choose to directly address the parents who had been heckling pro-mask speakers. Moskovitz turned to the parent group, pointed to herself and said, “I heard you all laughing at me. Really? I am fifteen.”
Parent Katie Pierce empathized with Moskovizt and applauded her courage. Pierce had planned to just thank the board for following public health guidelines put forward by experts, but after listening to all the discussion and jeering, she decided she had a more important message.
“It takes courage to come up in front of any crowd. From this chair, the camera can’t show the dynamics of what is going on with this meeting. I want to explain for those in the other room, and the 172 watching on YouTube what you probably can’t hear, but from my chair inside this room I can hear the comments made to people like Emma. I’ve been notetaking,” Pierce said.
Pierce then opened her journal to read.
“There’s been booing. There’s been comments saying, ‘That’s lies. You’re a joke’ There’s been laughter, heckling, masked parents were told to ‘shut up and go home’. They were told to stay home. One board certified physician was asked if he was a physical therapist. To top it off, we had one ‘Heil Hitler’, and to the woman who said she had health issues, she was told to lose weight,” Pierce said. “Now I’m very impressed with Emma who turned to the crowd to say this is not how we treat each other, and Emma, going to high school, is probably well aware there is an anti-bullying policy in our district. I looked it up tonight and gestures and comments by parents, administrators, students that are seen as threatening or bullying are not to be tolerated by us parents and not to be tolerated by administration. I am asking you now to please do something about this before my children go back to school. If they get heckled, harassed and bullied, that is not ok. We can do better in Birmingham.”