BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — Friday, the mask-mandate debate took center stage in downtown Bloomington.
Dozens of anti-mask mandate protesters gathered peacefully outside the McLean County Health Department at 200 W. Front Street. The nearly 40-50 people argued mask mandates from any authority, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or Governor’s Office, are “unconstitutional” and “violate” people’s personal freedoms.
Glenda Jackson attended the rally to support families deciding for themselves whether children should wear masks to school.
“I have grandchildren in these schools and I don’t want their rights to be taken away. I want them to know they are free in this country to wear a mask or not wear a mask, [and I] support whatever they feel,” Jackson said.
The argument comes after Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker mandated last week that all Illinois K-12th grade schools will need to require all students and staff to wear masks to begin the school year.
The mandate is due to the highly-contagious Delta variant spreading across the state, with nearly every county in Illinois within a “high” level of transmission according to CDC’s COVID-19 database.
Jackson said it’s “dangerous” to let the government gain more control than it already has.
“If you let the government start taking away your rights now, what’s next? What is next, get in your house and don’t come out until we tell you? Oh no, that’s not the country that I live in,” Jackson said.
Jackson and other critics of the governor’s decision(s) argued mandates are not laws and therefore don’t need to be followed.
“We are not breaking any laws and nobody can tell me that we are,” Jackson said.
Others passing by downtown see things differently. Antoinetta Roundtree was waiting for the bus and strongly disliked the protesters’ message.
“I just walked up on this and I am disgusted,” Roundtree said. “There is no possible way they can say that kids are not getting COVID.”
In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, more children are catching the virus. As of Aug. 5, 15% of new cases nationwide were in children.
There is also no vaccination approved for children 12 years old or younger.
Roundtree said the “misinformation” the crowd was shouting could lead to deadly consequences.
“I went to two funerals at one time. It’s killing people. It’s real. This is ridiculous. These people are out of their minds,” Roundtree said. “God forbid their kids end up dying, but maybe it’s the wake-up call that they need. It’s stupid.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association less than 2% of all child COVID-19 cases required hospitalization and only 0.00%-0.03% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in death.
The McLean County Health Department addressed the protest at its COVID-19 press conference Friday. Spokesperson Marianne Manko said the health department follows what’s in the best interest of public health, but doesn’t set any guidelines, it only follows them from higher powers like the Illinois Department of Public Health, CDC and the governor.
“We understand the mandates are unpopular and we support the right of anybody in our community to express their differences peacefully,” Manko said.
Manko sent WMBD a full statement from the health department that reads:
“The McLean County Health Department (MCHD) is committed to protecting and promoting health. This includes promoting vaccinations and social mitigations such as masking that protect children and adults in our community. As a local health department, we intend to promote and follow the guidance of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding any social mitigations that may be needed in schools to protect the public from COVID-19.
The governor’s executive order requires the indoor use of face coverings by students, staff, and visitors who are over age two and able to medically tolerate a face covering, regardless of vaccination status, consistent with CDC guidance; and the implementation of other layered prevention strategies (such as physical distancing, screening testing, ventilation, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, advising individuals to stay home when sick and get tested, contact tracing in combination with appropriate quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection) to the greatest extent possible and taking into consideration factors such as community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and occurrence of outbreaks, consistent with CDC guidance.
There is currently no vaccine authorized for children under 12, leaving them more at risk. The purpose of the universal indoor masking is to ensure that all students can safely attend school in-person this fall. Consistent and correct mask use is the simplest, most effective way to keep students safely in school.
We understand that these mitigations may not always be popular, and we support the right of the stakeholders in our community to express their differences peacefully and respectfully.
People who have questions or comments about State guidance are encouraged to contact the State. For more information on the Governor’s executive order click here.“
Most speakers at Friday’s event said they were not against people wearing masks or getting vaccinated, but those decisions should be made by individuals, not a governing body. Their bottom line: do what’s best for yourself.