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Hysteria over school mask mandates and COVID-19 nasal swabs may have quite possibly hit fever pitch in recent weeks.
From coast to coast, grown American adults have been exhibiting bizarre behavior at school board meetings, including throwing full blown tantrums, threatening violence, and even getting arrested. These often absurd displays are coupled with the unrelenting tragedy of the COVID-19, which is running rampant in states with low vaccination rates, posing a grave threat to the country’s ability to get the virus under control before even deadlier variants show up.
In Broward County, Florida, for example, which was recently leading the nation in COVID-19 hospitalizations, local school officials have defied Gov. Ron DeSantis’ statewide ban on mask mandates by requiring face coverings at their school (on Friday a judge ruled DeSantis’ ban unconstitutional).
The county’s decision to implement a mask mandate comes weeks after three employees of the Broward County school system were reported to have died due to complications of COVID, and amid data suggesting that the biggest cohort of people getting sick in the community are children and teens.
Broward County’s decision to move forward with a mask mandate, despite threats of losing state funding, has enraged some parents in the area.
Earlier this week, a dad walked his 10th-grade daughter to Fort Lauderdale High School, where she was turned away four consecutive days for failing to comply with the mask policy. As he was filming the interaction on his phone, a masked high schooler said, “I've had enough for four days,” according to NBC, and tried to grab his phone. He then grabbed the girl's arm, twisted it behind her back and pushed her against a gate. School resource officers and a security guard pulled him off her. He’s since been charged with child abuse.
Broward County was also the site of a chaotic and unruly school board meeting this week, as the polarizing issue of mask mandates has transformed the usually dull setting of school board meetings into a magnet for conspiracy theorists and culture warriors. Parents flocked to the meeting to protest the school district’s proposed COVID-19 testing protocols. There, they spouted disinformation about a chemical used to sterilize most medical devices, including nasal swabs.
Hysteria about the chemical compound used in the tests has blown up in recent weeks as videos falsely claiming that the chemicals will cause cancer went viral on TikTok and Instagram. According to the Sun Sentinel, school board members had to repeatedly mute parents’ microphones or cut them off when they started spreading disinformation, and at least one particularly unruly parent, who called the board members “disgusting,” was escorted away.
At a school board meeting in Palm Beach, Florida, this week, a man repeatedly refused to sit down in a special room reserved for unmasked individuals, and was ultimately arrested.
At a school board meeting in San Antonio (where local officials have also adopted a mask mandate in defiance of state law), two police officers had to physically carry an unmasked woman out of the room while she was still seated.
In Ottawa, Michigan, dozens of anti-maskers showed up to a Board of Commissioners meeting to protest their recent adoption of a mask mandate for the school district. In a video that’s since gone viral, one anti-masker railed against the mandate.
“If you have that diaper on your face,” he shouted, gesturing toward the commissioners, “If he farted, could you smell it? That’s how stupid this is. We’re all playing games here with people's lives, and I'm sick of it.”
Then he continued. “There’s hell coming. There’s hell coming, and I’m not doing it to threaten anybody. But there’s a lot of good guys out there ready to do bad things soon,” he said. “Watch what’s coming.”
At a public forum earlier this week in Cheshire, Connecticut, where the governor was present, an anti-masker in the audience held his baby in the air and acted as if he was smothering the infant with a mask. He was apparently trying to make the point that mask mandates were tantamount to child abuse.
A school board meeting in Douglas County, Colorado, also went completely off the rails amid debate over their recent adoption of a mask mandate for school kids. Parents accused the board members of being the “Mask Gestapo” reported Denver’s KUSA Kyle Clark. Other parents said they’d moved to Douglas County specifically to escape the mask policy in Denver. Another speaker, who previously ran for school board, claimed there was a sniper on the roof because the board members “feared the parent voice.”
And, late last week, Louisiana’s state school board meeting in Baton Rouge descended into chaos when it was hijacked by a rabble of nearly 200 angry parents, plus a conservative evangelical preacher, who were there to protest the statewide mask mandate for schools. When the crowd was asked to mask up or leave the room, they chanted “We will not comply,” and “no more masks” according to the Daily Advertiser. Later they pointed at board members screaming “traitors.”
The tense debate over school mask mandates coincides with the beginning of the school year, and rising COVID-19 cases among children. The surge in cases is partly due to the fact that children are currently the biggest population that are unvaccinated, and also due to the spread of the highly-contagious Delta variant. Despite the GOP’s war on masking kids, scientists have repeatedly assured the public that it is safe for children over the age of two to wear masks, so long as the masks are regularly replaced or washed, and that mask-wearing won’t impact their breathing.