By KEVIN LIMITI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Anti-mask and anti-vaccine protesters staged two rallies in Otsego County in the past week, bringing their message to Bassett Healthcare and others.
Hundreds of protesters, along with Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, marched to A.O. Fox Hospital and through Main Street in Oneonta on Friday, Sept. 17.
Protesters also marched Tuesday, Sept. 21, in Cooperstown, from the Otsego County Courthouse to Bassett Medical Center.
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 Network was in response to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s mandate that all healthcare workers should be vaccinated.
Prior to the march, the Oneonta 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 in,” Salka said. “Last year they were heroes, this year they’re zeroes.”
In a speech prior to the March, Salka said 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 Medical Center as an anesthesia tech, said 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 is 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 said, “the
goalposts keep moving” in regards to the COVID virus. “Wear a mask, we wore a mask. Take a shot, we take a shot.”
Much of the rhetoric in the speeches was based on a reluctance to wear masks and get 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.”
However, Florida’s COVID rates are among the worst in the nation during the Delta variant, with a positivity rate of above 11% last week, according to the Florida Department of Health. The New York Times reported last week that about 450 people a day are currently dying of COVID in Florida, compared with 33 per day in New York.
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 she wasn’t anti-vaccine but she had the virus previously and believed her anti-bodies were enough.
“You don’t get the flu shot when you’ve 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 they are, 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 the group 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 hough. 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 crybaby, take the shot,” Nienart said.
Brian LoRusso, a candidate for town supervisor in Hartwick, organized both protests in Cooperstown and Oneonta through his Facebook group “Patriots for American Freedom.”
“The American people have a right to protest for our rights,” LoRusso said.
Eileen Hart, a former college professor, criticized Bassett and the vaccine mandate. “If you’re treating their personnel this way than imagine how they’d treat you as a patient,” Hart said. “We need to stand up for our rights. We need to speak truth to fear.”