Livingston parents, others protest mask, vaccine mandates and COVID funds

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Howell — A crowd of protesters lined both sides of busy Grand River Road on Sunday  to rally against mask and vaccine mandates.

Parents, children and other residents, organized by Moms for Liberty Livingston County and Guardians of Freedom Michigan, held up signs reading "Unmask our children" and "Government: protect our freedom, not our health" outside the Livingston County Health Department. 

Livingston County has not imposed mask or vaccine mandates in schools. The county health department recommends masks to limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Nicole Cullers, foreground, of Brighton and Lauren McWhorter, 29, of Weberville, left, and her husband Pete, 31, protest mask mandates for schoolchildren that some counties are enacting.

Protesters also demanded that the county's General Government and Health and Human Services Committee retract its Sept. 7 acceptance of $1.5 million in federal aid for its COVID response through 2022, including testing and contact tracing. 

"Without the COVID money, we'll have freedom of choice for our children. We're not here for forced masks. We're not here for restricted education. We want our kids in school without restrictions," said Nicole Cullers, who has three children in county schools. 

"The pandemic is done," said Cullers, who described the aid package as a "COVID bribe." 

Cullers' comments come as Michigan's COVID-19 infection numbers continue to trend upwards, as they have been doing for 10 weeks, with the more infectious delta variant raising concerns about the ongoing wave of infections. More than 20,000 people have died of the virus in the state since the pandemic began, and over 970,000 people have tested positive, according to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Friday, the latest numbers to be released. 

All Michigan residents should be wearing masks while in public under federal guidelines, the Centers for Disease Control has recommended, based on high or substantial levels of community spread in every county in the state.

"Michigan cases are growing at similar rates to states with delta surges," said the state health department said in its data update last week. "(The) delta wave in Michigan could lead to even more pediatric COVID hospitalizations this fall than we experienced last spring."

At the rally Sunday afternoon, Lee Ann Blazejewski, a nurse and City Council candidate, said that she had received every vaccine for which she was eligible before the pandemic, but had "serious questions" about the vaccines against COVID-19. 

"I don't feel confident, comfortable receiving it," said Blazejewski. "And I shouldn't be forced into receiving something that I don't feel comfortable with as a condition of employment.”

One of the vaccines, from Pfizer, received full approval from United States regulators, which Blazejewski described as a "big, huge lie." 

Blazejewski said she did not believe kids needed to be masked because she believed their immune systems would be sufficient to fight the virus if they become infected.

For older relatives the children might see who could be more vulnerable if infected, she said: "Don't take them to grandma and grandpa. Like, just don't take them over there.”

Some parents, like Kristine Lindsey, whose 12-year-old son has been attending school in-person this year, said they would pull their kids out of school if masks or vaccines were mandated, hoping instead to gather pods of students together "so that we all can help each other instead of trying to do it on our own."

Lauren McWhorter, 29, of Weberville and her 5-year-old daughter, Mia, protest during the anti-mask rally in Howell on Sunday.

Others, like Shelly Shpakoff, already started homeschooling. Shpakoff said she pulled her children out because she was upset that students were missing out on sporting events and other school activities. 

The rally comes as others challenge the enforcement of mask mandates. A Lansing Catholic school's request to stop a mask mandate was denied again Sept. 3, the same day Resurrection School filed a motion for a temporary restraining order with U.S. Western District Judge Paul Maloney, who denied the request.

On Aug. 25, demonstrators gathered outside of the Macomb County Health Department in Mount Clemens to criticize the county’s lack of a mask mandate for students ahead of the upcoming school year.

The day before, Oakland County health officials ordered that masks must be worn by children and staff in all schools and daycare centers. On Sep. 2, more than 300 anti-mask protesters tried to get into a packed Oakland County Board of Commission meeting to object to an Oakland County Health Division order, and Republicans on the board attempted, unsuccessfully, to overturn the county-wide mask mandate for K-12 students

Washtenaw and Ingham counties in early September joined other counties, including Wayne, Kalamazoo, Allegan, Kent and Ottawa, in mandating masks in schools.