By KEVIN LIMITI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA — Hundreds of protesters, along with Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, marched to A.O. Fox Hospital and through Main Street Friday, Sept. 17, to protest the vaccine mandate put in place for healthcare workers.
The protesters chanted slogans such as “stop the mandate” as they walked through downtown Oneonta towards the hospital. There were signs that said “unmask our children” and “protect our liberties.”
The vaccine mandate from Bassett Healthcare was in response to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s mandate that all healthcare workers should be vaccinated.
Prior to the march, the protesters rallied at Damaschke Field.
“I’m here to support the medical professionals and support their right to not have an injection they’re not confident,” Salka told AllOtsego.com. “Last year they were heroes, this year they’re zeroes.”
In a speech prior to the March, Salka said that healthcare workers were “being treated like garbage” and “second class citizens.” He also derided medical advisor Anthony Fauci for “lying” about masks. Salka was possibly referring to when in the beginning of the pandemic, Fauci said people didn’t need to wear masks.
“I’m proud to walk with you up to Fox Hospital,” Salka said. “I want to thank everyone for being here today.”
Bernard Holoquist, who works at Bassett Hospital as an anesthesia tech, said that he was “praying I keep my job” because of the vaccine mandate.
The deadline for healthcare workers at Bassett to get the first shot of the vaccine in Sunday, Sept. 27.
“Eighteen months I was good enough for them,” Holoquist said.
Holoquist gave a speech where he said he believed his freedom was being taken from him.
“I believe our liberty is gone or it’s going to get even worse,” Holoquist said, who remarked that “the goal posts keep moving” in regards to the COVID virus.
“Wear a mask, we wore a mask. Take a shot, we take a shot,” Holoquist said.
Much of the rhetoric in the speeches were based on a reluctance of masks and vaccines and a general mistrust of the information being put out about the COVID response.
“They don’t do masks in Florida. They don’t do masks in South Carolina,” Holoquist said. “Why do we do masks? You have to wake up.”
Holoquist said that he lived a life like he didn’t care if he died.
“Why are you worried about the shot if you can give it and get it?” Holoquist said.
Gina Madeiros, who also works at Bassett Hospital as a supervisor, said she was there because of “medical freedom and choice.”
Madeiros emphasized that she wasn’t anti-vaccine but that she had the virus previously and believed her anti-bodies were enough.
“You don’t get the flu shot when you had the flu,” Madeiros said. “I watched patients die because they didn’t take medical advice and that’s their right. I should have that right also. I have until Sunday. … I’ve been poor my whole life. I finally got a career and now I have to choose. That’s not fair.”
According to the CDC, reinfections with COVID are rare but do occur. However, there is not much data yet on how common reinfections are, how severe or whether an individual is able to spread the virus if re-infected. Also unknown is how the Delta variant, which is more contagious, and other future variants will factor in to reinfections.
As they marched through downtown Oneonta to Fox Hospital and back to Damasckhe Field, there were many vocal supporters near by who honked their horns or showed support.
Not everyone was supportive though. Outside of the Roots Brewing Company, Lawrence Nienart put his thumb down and got into a mild verbal altercation with Holoquist, who was carrying an American flag.
“Don’t be a cry baby, take the shot,” Nienart said.
The protesters are supposed to march again in Cooperstown, with a rally planned for Tuesday, Sept. 21.