Taylor Corley, editor-in-chief
On Friday, Sept. 3, several Floyd County community members, including an abundance of healthcare workers and Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, gathered at the levee footpath in Heritage Park to participate in an “anti-mandate” protest. This movement comes as a response to the push for a vaccine mandate given the increase in COVID-19 cases in Floyd County hospitals.
Hours before the protest, the Northwest Georgia healthcare facilities released a collective statement online and on social media that called on members of the surrounding communities to help fight the on-going transmission of COVID-19 and the Delta variant, calling it “ a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” The facilities involved in creating the statement included the Georgia Department of Public Health, Harbin Clinic, AdventHealth, Piedmont Cartersville Medical Center, Floyd Health System, Redmond Regional Medical Center and Hamilton Medical Center.
According to a report from 11 Alive News, the statement follows a Sept. 2 meeting where the Rome City Commission and the Floyd County Commission met with representatives from the aforementioned medical centers to discuss the death of 13-year-old Porter Helm, from Rome, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 a week prior.
The statement posted on the Floyd News Room webpage explicitly states that a “COVID-19 vaccination is our best tool for reducing the overwhelming strain on our health care system, health care providers and EMS personnel” and urges those 12-years and older to get vaccinated.
Stephanie Mutchler, who has been a registered nurse for 23 years, was in attendance at the protest in Heritage Park. According to Mutchler, Harbin Clinic has now become one of the first medical facilities in Floyd County to mandate a COVID-19 vaccine for employees. The mandate requires employees to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination by Sept. 23, a date that comes 30 days after FDA approval. Those who choose not to receive the vaccine must resign in good standing or they will be terminated.
Mutchler has chosen not to receive the vaccine, and she is among those at the clinic who will be terminated.
“I love my department,” Mutchler said. “I love my physicians. I love my boss, best boss I’ve ever had, best physicians, I’ve been there 16 years, I love it, but administration is who made this decision. I don’t think our physicians would have forced [the vaccine] on us themselves.”
For Mutchler, and others in attendance, like freshman Addison Blake, the protest was not to deride the vaccine or masks but rather advocate for the right to choose not to get the vaccine.
“It wasn’t necessarily to stand up for being against vaccines, it was definitely more about standing up for your freedom,” Blake said. “It wasn’t anti-vac anything, it was just a protest against the vaccines being mandated. It was like stop the force of mandates, not anti-vaccine at all.”
For Blake, who hopes to complete the Berry College nursing program, the experience provided her with the opportunity to advocate for certain freedoms in her future career journey and support those who have paved the way before her.
“It was really cool to see firsthand those people who put their life on the line while other people didn’t get the chance to do that, standing up for what they believe in because they have that right,” Blake said. “I want to be a nurse one day, so hopefully that rally helps them notice that there are people behind [them] who want to make the decision for themselves, not because they want to not get vaccinated in general, they just want the choice to be vaccinated and they don’t want to feel forced to do it.”
According to Mutchler, requirements listed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), issued in an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for healthcare, might have provided incentives for hospitals and other medical facilities to mandate vaccines.
Effective June 21, the OSHA ETS, intended to protect and accommodate those working closely to patients who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, requires that healthcare employers continue to pay employees who must leave work due to having a confirmed or suspected case COVID-19.
“It comes back to money because the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard they have put in place says that hospitals or ambulatory surgery facilities have to pay sick time even if the employee has run out of sick time,” Mutchler said. “So, it’s a big financial hardship and, it’s their impression that they’re going to have to pay all this sick time out for anybody that has COVID so they’re pressuring us to be vaccinated so that we don’t get COVID so they don’t have to pay sick time.”
The importance of the protest came from the need to protect freedoms of choice and expression, according to Mutchler.
“We’re already seeing a loss of freedom of speech online and now this is freedom loss for our medical autonomy and next will be freedom of religion that is lost,” Mutchler said. “We’ve already lost freedom of assembly because of COVID, and they’re saying it’s for safety which is understandable but these things happen slowly and then they get taken away from you and you will never ever get them back, and so that scares me more than anything.”
and the reason for being present was to support the right to choose when it comes to receiving or not receiving the vaccine.
“When we were in our first surge of [COVID-19] there wasn’t a vaccine then and we kept it, for the most part, under control and so if people just truly wear their mask and follow the rules, you shouldn’t have to be vaccinated, you should have the choice to be vaccinated,” Blake said.
After a year and a half of personally conducted research, Mutchler said she is alarmed by the lack of access to materials that contain dissenting opinions regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. For her, another deterrent is the fact that there is also little knowledge about the long term effects.
“I have done research for the last year and a half about [the vaccine], I’ve been trying to keep up with it and there’s been a lot of conflicting reports,” Mutchler said. “And any physician or pathologist or virologist that comes out with a dissenting opinion about it gets taken off the internet. If it had been out for five years and we were able to see long-term results, and make sure that we don’t have birth defects and other long term autoimmune diseases and neurological diseases then I would be comfortable with it at some point, but I’m not right now.”
Amidst the controversy, Blake said the protest provided a place for differing views to find common ground.
“I think that it was something that, no matter if you’re for the vaccine or you’re not for the vaccine, or you think people should get vaccinated or you shouldn’t, I think that just protesting in general is a really cool experience, because not everyone agrees on the same thing, and protesting lets you see both sides of it,” Blake said.
Blake was able to meet Rep. Taylor Greene who had shown support for the protest through social media posting prior to attending.
“She was so sweet,” Blake said. “She went out of the way to make sure she shook everyone’s hand and talk to everyone, like I don’t think she missed a single person.”
According to Blake, the congresswoman is someone she admires and respects and meeting her added to the overall experience.
“It was really cool because she just sat there and listened to me talk, even about the Berry experience and how I want to be in healthcare one day,” Blake said. “She just told me to stick in there and stand up for what I believe in and just hang in there.
At the time of publication, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported that Floyd County has had 14 residential deaths from COVID-19 since Sept. 1 and according to the New York Times Covid Counter, Floyd County is sitting at an average of 162 cases per day.