‘We will find you’: anti-mask parents threaten doctors and nurses at Tennessee school board meeting

Pediatric Covid cases have been rising in the school district and the state at large amid the Delta surge

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Thursday 12 August 2021 08:05 BST
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A group of anti-mask parents aggressively confronted doctors and nurses leaving a school board meeting in Tennessee night after a school mask mandate just passed, surrounding their cars and threatening them.

“You can leave freely, but we will find you, and we know who you are,” one man says, in video captured by journalist Matt Masters.

“You’ll never be allowed in public again,” another man says, as a crowd nearby chants, “Will not comply!” and “No more masks!”

Police had to restrain the crowd.

“I was told by deputies to stay inside for my own safety because I was wearing a mask,” NewsChannel5 reporter Kelsey Gibbs wrote of the experience. “I covered stories where I feared for my safety but a school board meeting on mask mandates was a first.”

The outrage was in response to a Tuesday night meeting of the Williamson County School Board, which voted 7 to 3 to require masks for all students and teachers at the elementary school level in the district, which resumed classes last week and where most students aren’t old enough to get vaccinated. The county, one of the wealthiest in the country, previously had a mask mandate, which it dropped at the end of the previous school year as Covid cases declined.

Though many parents testified about how they desperately wanted a mask mandate, and school board chair Nancy Garrett said she got twice as many emails in support of a mandate than against it, similar hysterics drowned out their comments.

A man in blue scrubs, believed to be a nurse at a Nashville-area hospital, interrupted the proceedings and was escorted outside by deputies, where he falsely told Tennessee Holler, “There’s no pandemic,” and, “Masks don’t work.”

A woman inside the meeting threatened to sue the school board, and held up a sign that said, “I don’t care what you vote – my kids will be as masked as an Obama b-day,” a reference to the former president’s controversial recent birthday party on Martha’s Vineyard.

Since the school district resumed classes on Friday, 25 children have tested positive for Covid. State health officials recently warned that pediatric cases nearly doubled in July, mirroring national trends, where doctors in areas with low vaccination say they’re seeing increasing levels of young Covid patients during the Delta surge.

“It is scary, especially for kids who don’t fully understand what’s going on. They’re air hungry, struggling for breath, and it’s just scary,” Dr Kelechi Iheagwara, medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at the Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, recently told NBC News. “You have the illness, the fear, they can’t breathe, they’re isolated — that’s hard for anyone to understand, but can you imagine what it’s like for a kid?”

The school board in Tennessee, even with these grim realities, has limited ability to enforce public health guidance. Its mask mandate allows for religious and healthcare exemptions to the rule, and officials have said they won’t ask parents follow-up questions if they request a waiver. And an April change in state policy means that the school can’t switch back to distanced learning if cases increase.

Though a Kaiser Family Foundation poll on Wednesday found that 63 percent of parents of school age children support mask mandates for unvaccinated students, coronavirus has been deeply politicized in deep-red Tennessee, which overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in 2020.

Less than half the population has received even one shot of the vaccine, more than 10 per cent lower than the national average. The state’s governor has banned counties from extending mask mandates, while the Republican US Senator for Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn, cheered on the anti-mask protesters on her Twitter as “common sense,” even though the CDC recommends universal mask wearing in schools.

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