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A maskless revolt

State stays mum; hospital physician outraged how some put others at risk

A group of anti-mask protesters violated the mask mandate Sept. 1 at a Sandusky store.

SANDUSKY — The state health department pushed back on questions about people who refuse to wear masks where they are mandated.

“The best answers to these questions should come from the local health department,” Melanie Amato, a press secretary for the Ohio Department of Health, told the Register in a statement sent in response to an inquiry about maskless revolts.

The Register asked the state health department what stores can do to stop maskless protests; how private businesses can enforce their own local or state mask mandates; what are the recommended responses when incidents like this occur; and whether there have been other such incidents reported.

Amato provided a one-paragraph response that did not fully address the questions.

A grocery store in Sandusky was the target of one such revolt on Sept. 1, when 18 people went inside the store together — none wearing a mask — despite the state’s mandate requiring masks and the sign on the door reminding shoppers to cover their faces before entering.

“The local health departments are the ones that work with the local businesses and establishments in their area when it comes to enforcement and people following the order,” Amato said. “In these cases, it sounds like the customers are the ones who were violating the mask order, not the business.”

HOW TO RESPOND?

Any business faced with a customer or others who insist on violating the mask order has a right to contact local law enforcement under the order, she said.

“They can also work with the local health department to help with messaging and, again, with enforcement,” Amato said.

The state health department’s mask order was issued on July 23 and requires people to wear a mask “when out in public.”

With a few exceptions, the order states that people, age 10 or older, must “wear facial covering at all times when: in any indoor location that is not a residence; outdoors and consistently unable to maintain a distance of 6 feet or more from persons who are not members of their own family or household; and waiting for, riding, driving or operating public transportation, a taxi, car service, or a ride-sharing vehicle.”

Erie County health commissioner Pete Schade said there was no practical way to stop the protesters Sept. 1. Schade called the protest irresponsible and foolish when it happened, and he faulted participants for endangering others.

Other health directors across the state did not immediately respond to questions about whether businesses in their communities experienced similar protests.

OUTRAGED

An Ohio doctor who read the Register’s news article about the maskless protest said she was “outraged” by it.

“If you want to protest, OK. Outside. Where people have a choice of being involved, or not being involved,” said Dr. Karen Floro, a hospitalist physician at Akron General Hospital.

Floro, who’s worked with many COVID-19 patients and was forced to send some to hospice, said she’s disturbed the protesters put others at risk. Floro said she was concerned for the store’s employees and customers, and the protesters acted selfishly.

“Don’t enter a store if you refuse to wear a mask,” she said.

“It’s ironic that I feel more safe in a hospital that treats COVID than in the community. In the hospital, there is a face mask requirement and limited visitors. We have security there to help us reinforce wearing a mask and with visitors.”

Floro said she hopes Gov. Mike DeWine and the state health department find a method to enforce the mask mandate.

One person who participated in the maskless protest Sept. 1 was Dr. Elizabeth Laffay, a physician with a practice in Sandusky. Laffay was not immediately available for comment, but she’s made her views well-known in videos related to her practice.

“What started as a flattening of the curve has now become waiting for a vaccine, maybe. And I’m wondering what was wrong with the old normal?” Laffay states in one video recorded in about April.

“You know, for years, we have lived with viruses and bacteria and relied on our body’s innate ability to fight off those diseases. And we’ve had some time with this virus now, and we’ve found it’s not nearly as deadly as we initially thought, and there are great treatments out there that are effective.

“So, it’s essentially on par with the flu.”

DEATH TOLLS

As of Thursday, more than 190,000 Americans had died from complications related to COVID-19, about 100,000 more now than when Laffay made that video. The death tolls from past pandemics range from up to 50 million caused by the 1918 flu pandemic and up to 200 million during the Bubonic plague.

Closer to home, the two cholera pandemics killed an estimated 1.8 million people, including decimating Sandusky, in the 19th century.

Floro said Laffay is simply flat-out wrong to downplay the coronavirus or suggest it is like the flu.

“This is a novel virus. We do not recognize this virus,” she said.

The full impact of the disease is unknown, and full recovery can be elusive.

“What we are seeing is more than lung effects. We are seeing clots, strokes, deep vein thrombosis, systematic effects on the nerves (the lack of smell and taste) and heart (ailments),” said Floro, whose practice is entirely based in the hospital setting. “Asymptomatic does not mean without disease.”

Laffay, in one video, urges viewers to not use masks.

“We need to come out from behind our mandated masks,” she states.

“If you’re feeling confident, though, like me, I think it’s time to have drink with a friend, invite a few people over, get your hands dirty. If you’re ready, it’s time to come out and play.”

That, from Floro’s point of view, working with patients of the disease, is terrible advice, and Laffay is relying on discredited information in making such a statement.

“Respect the virus,” Floro said. “Do whatever you can to prevent transmission. That includes wearing a mask when there is a mandate. COVID is not over.”

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