Covid-19 deniers threaten those in our community and our community's health

By Emma DeMarco

“No f*!?ing masks for the kids. If you keep pushing this cr*p 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 senior at University of Michigan bicentennial office Bailey Oland checked his Facebook one day to find this comment left on one of his posts in support of wearing masks at Walled Lake Schools. Andrew Miller, a rigorous anti-vaxxer, left this comment and shocked Oland, who feared for himself and his loved ones.

This was not Andrew’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.

The rage some anti-mask/anti-vaxxers feel continues to grow, even as the numbers of COVID-19 cases grow, and now people are being threatened and doxed. This is despite the fact that Michigan recently became the number COVID hot spot in the nation. Just like COVID, this hate has spread and contaminated our district and even its board meetings. When speaking to the board at one of these meetings, anti-vaxxer Christina Odell expressed her disdain for 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 Barrack in Camelot and Washington D.C.. You know this is from the CDC and Fauci. You know this is a hoax. I don’t wanna be compromised because of someone else's fear. This is manufactured,” Odell said.

Screenshot of BPS Board of Education Meeting, October 17

Passionate 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. 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.

Having to wear a mask won't gravely compromise you; unless you consider having a thin, weightless, breathable piece of fabric in front of your face, a “very serious issue that affects your health”. However, what would likely compromise you is the lethal, extremely contagious, painful virus that is currently spreading around our world. These comments can be incredibly harmful to those who have suffered the very real effects of COVID-19. Our current recorded number of COVID-19 deaths is now over 5.07 million, meaning over 5 million families grieved the loss of at least one loved one. Comments such as Odell’s that refer to this virus as a hoax sounded very ignorant to those who have lost one or more people in this pandemic, especially as Michigan now tops the country in new, daily cases. As of November 22, Michigan's 7-day average is 8.153 new cases, with 2,124 in just Oakland County. Epidemiologist predict this fourth wave in Michigan will rise as we go into the holiday season.

Science teacher Cynthia Sherman tragically lost five close people to COVID-19 and understands the hardships and severity of the virus better than most people. Two of the people Sherman lost were 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; that was terrible. 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 believes that it’s possible that the people who believe this is a hoax, perhaps, have just not lost anyone to the virus yet.

To explore this idea, I took a poll of 108 Groves and Seaholm students on their beliefs and experiences with the virus. The poll revealed that 100% of the participants who said they believed this was a hoax, as well as 100% of the participants who would not refer to it as a deadly virus, had never lost anyone to COVID, or knew anybody who suffered a very severe case. This data displays that many of those who have not experienced the traumatic effects of COVID, simply think that nobody else has.

This could not be further from the truth. Another speaker at the October board meeting claimed that because she and her family had COVID twice and were still alive, and because of that, COVID could not possibly be a deadly illness. Many people have fed into this lie, and have lost their life. I hope as our numbers continue to rise, more do not make the same mistake.

A website, titled “”, shares the stories of how outspoken anti-vaxxers lost their lives to COVID. The website and the lengthy list of names are absolutely tragic, as none of these deaths were deserved and could have been avoided if the victims had gotten one of the 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, 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.

These tragic stories are preventable, as long as those who can get vaccinated, go get vaccinated. 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. 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.

Without this vaccine, we are entirely vulnerable to this deadly illness. Tons of anti-vaxxers are doing “their own research” on friend’s social media accounts who simply agree this is a government conspiracy, and are coming to the conclusion that this vaccine is harmful and does not work. However, because fake news about COVID is crawling all over the internet everywhere, their own research (meaning their quick Google search or that best friend’s post), is likely false. There is misinformation regarding the COVID vaccine spewing everywhere. Some even this shot contains a tracker, or some lethal chemical, or that it’s just a placebo.

Photo by Chadwick Cole

I lay in the grass under a tombstone, imitating the death of yet another anti-vaxxer. The message engraved on the tombstone on the shirt, “I Did My Own Research”, is a mockery of those who choose to ignore the advice of medical experts and vaccine experts, and instead do their own “Google” searches to acquire their information. This mentality is detrimental to our society, as it causes the continuous spread and deaths of people all around the country.

To get credible data about COVID, I spoke to the Chief of Emergency Medicine at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, Dr. Christopher Colwell. Colwell is also a professor and vice chair in the department of emergency medicine at UCSF School of Medicine. He has fought COVID firsthand in his own ER and has been treating infected patients since the very 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.”

I contracted this illness, and can confidently say it was the worst I’ve ever felt; I can’t remember the last time I was that sick. No other illness has ever caused me to lose complete taste and smell like COVID did. Right when I began feeling symptoms, I knew something was very wrong. My throat burned constantly. My mind and body experienced constant exhaustion and body aches that spread all over consumed me. Ironically, I went and received my first dose of the vaccine, whilst having COVID (unknowingly). I tested positive at my first softball practice the next day, and then tested positive again after receiving a PCR test later that day. Experiencing this illness firsthand was something quite shocking and frightening for me. Luckily, my symptoms didn’t last too long. Despite my asthma, I experienced no respiratory symptoms. Instead, I dealt with a raw sore throat that burned like hell at all times, with no relief. My body ached everywhere; my legs and back were so sore the only comfortable position was to be totally horizontal. I suffered headaches that felt more like migraines, and every time I stood up I felt like I was weightlessly floating in the clouds, too dizzy to walk. I woke up each morning by vomiting into the toilet. My nausea gave me no appetite, so I was constantly throwing up acidic bile that stung my entire esophagus and mouth. Most of all, I was insanely tired. My constant fatigue kept me in bed most of the time, and I spent my days going in and out of sleep. I am a healthy, young athlete, and this is what COVID to me. Sleep was my only relief from unbearable pain at all times.

Imagine If I were older? If I had underlying health conditions? Imagine if I thought this was all a hoax? I might have ended up on a ventilator or dead.

The COVID antibodies remained in my system until about July, but they eventually wore off, and I haven’t even caught a cold. This is likely because I’ve gotten my vaccine, which has let me feel safe when I go out. I no longer worry about having to deal with that depressing, painful experience ever again.

I was very lucky to not have any serious long-term damage or fatal symptoms, but millions of others did, and especially those who thinks this is a hoax, only to realize it is not, as they enter the ER for Covid-19, and either suffer from long haul symptoms, or their with their dying breath, realize Covid-19 is not a conspiracy.

Colwell has seen horrific things in his ER due to the pandemic, and 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.”

Many are convinced that this vaccine does not work. While it is true that you can still contract COVID with the vaccine, vaccinated people will experience much milder cases of the disease and are not nearly as likely to die. Yet, many people are dying now, especially because of these new variant because something that is a health crisis has become a political divide. The vaccine is one of the only things that can protect you from losing your life to this illness.

Another common belief is that masks don’t work. This has led to a great debate from parents and other community members at our own Birmingham board meetings about whether or not we should mandate masks in school.

Colwell believes masks are the second most important piece in preventing spread: the first being vaccinations, of course.

“Masks are the most effective thing we have to address air transmission of the virus. 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 gonna be anywhere near as effective as a surgical mask or particularly some of the better masks, like the N-95,” Colwell said.

Bottom line, masks are our last line of defense against the virus. It’s important to use effective masks, such as well-fitting, surgical mask because of their reliability. Hence, a gaiter is not going to do much to eliminate spread, but it is better than nothing. Tons of Birmingham parents choose to not believe this advice from medical professionals and are raging about having to wear masks at school. In her same speech at the board meeting, Odell expressed her anger on this issue.

“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.

I was shocked to hear the round of applause that rang throughout this crowd after this statement. I am not a teacher, but I do think I speak for our staff when I say that having to be exposed to a deadly virus in a worldwide pandemic that killed millions of people, including some of their family and close friends, was not in the teacher handbook. Nobody was prepared for this. Our own government wasn’t even prepared for this. Our teachers, many of whom have lost people due to the pandemic, deserve to feel safe and secure in their schools. They are the backbone of our country. They are the people who educate and help raise our youth; they have the right to come into school without feeling that their lives are at risk.

Vaccines have been out for about a year now and are now completely free and accessible. Masks are available in just about every store, especially the very dependable and safe surgical masks. Yet, Colwell and healthcare workers across the globe are still having to watch the painful death of unvaccinated citizens, knowing that their death could have been prevented if they had received a vaccine.

“Over this past year, these are now almost all preventable deaths,” Colwell said.

I find this to be the most heartbreaking aspect of this big debate. If all those unvaccinated who died had listened to medical experts, who devote their life to their practice, instead of listening to social media, they may be alive today.

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