KENT COUNTY, Mich. — Pro-mask and anti-mask groups gathered Friday afternoon in front of the Kent County Health Department building to voice their opinions on children wearing masks in school.
Each group congregated on separate sides of the roadway leading into the Kent County compound, where the health department is located, off of Leonard around 11 am.
“Forget about politics, forget about religion, this has nothing to do with freedom... we’re in a pandemic,” said a mother named Marie, who helped organize the pro-mask group Smart Science Alliance, who was there Friday.
“I have two children with asthma, and one is 11, and he’s going into a fifth/sixth [grade] building with kids who don’t have to wear masks. We have the delta variant coming.”
Parents like her are eager for health officials to reinstate mask mandates at area schools.
Internal medicine doctor Abha Gupta Varma, M.D., was in attendance with those advocating for more mask mandates, saying, “The disease is becoming devastating again. We will see our hospital systems near collapse, turning away patients if we don't take this just as seriously as we had last year.”
But for the other side present Friday, requiring masks in school again is unacceptable.
“No mask mandates anywhere, particularly in school for our little kids,” Ray Haan, a COVID survivor and advocate against mask mandates, told FOX 17.
Shaun Cortie, who says his father died just five days after receiving a COVID vaccine in New Mexico, said, "We are empowered with critical thought and the ability to make our own decisions concerning our lives and the lives of our children.”
While there were significantly more people in the anti-mask camp on Friday, both groups were aiming to catch the attention of both the passing public and the Kent County Health Department.
Dr. Adam London ended up issuing a 12-minute video statement late Friday afternoon.
“In the past several days, I have received hundreds, perhaps thousands of emails and calls from concerned residents regarding the topic of masks in schools. These emails reflect a wide variety of perspectives people have,” Dr. London said in the video.
Grand Rapids Public Schools announced last week that they would not be requiring staff and students to wear face masks during the 2021/2022 school year but that they would strongly recommend it for all coming through their buildings.
While the Kent County Health Department does have the ability to put area school mask mandates into effect, Dr. London said in his video Friday that, at this time, he will not be issuing any additional mask mandates for schools in Kent County.
"At this time, I am presenting the community with the highest recommendation possible that schools and the parents require adherence to the guidance of the CDC, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and the Kent County Health Department," he said in the video.
"Above all, I expect that the children under the age of 12, who are not yet eligible for vaccines, are protected through mask use and other proven prevention strategies."
With no additional mandates being issued at the local level Friday, both groups say they will continue to advocate for what they believe is right.
“We should make our choices for ourselves, based on informed decisions,” said Cortie.
While Dr. Gupta Varma added, "This is not about rights vs. non-rights... This ends up becoming a conversation about life and its frailty. No one can predict who gets COVID-19.”