‘We want answers’: Protesters gather at local health department, question officials

ST. GEORGE — A group of 30-40 people gathered Monday afternoon in front of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department to protest county health guidelines related to COVID-19 and demand answers from authorities. 

Randall Martin was one of a small group of protesters outside the Southwest Utah Public Health Department on Nov. 2 to protest local mask mandates. Photo by Megan Webber.

“We’re here to try to get our voice heard,” Randall Martin, one of the protesters, said. “It’s about our bodies and our personal right to choose. And we don’t believe that it’s as big of a threat as it’s being pumped up to be.”

The protest was not organized by any specific person or organization, but it consisted of a group of individuals with a common perspective. The group voiced concerns about local mask mandates and who the orders are coming from.

The protesters were addressed by David Blodgett, the director of the health department. He answered questions from the crowd, saying none of the local mask mandates were made by his department. They come from the state health department, he said, which the local department functions under.

“I don’t make mandates happen, they come out from the governor and people can do with them what they will,” Blodgett said. “I make the recommendations I make and then whatever comes out of that community, that’s what comes out.”

The protesters, none of whom wore masks, surrounded Blodgett, who sported a standard blue surgical mask. Larry Meyers, who is running to represent District 2 for the Washington County School Board of Education, was present at the protest and asked who is enforcing the mask mandates in restaurants and businesses and how. 

Director of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department and Health Officer David Blodgett spoke to protesters on Nov. 2 about local mask mandates. Photo by Megan Webber.

“We’re not enforcing it,” Blodgett said. “Even the governor in his press conference said, ‘No, nobody’s really gonna enforce this, it’s basically guidelines for safety.’”

He added that businesses could be penalized with a Class B misdemeanor or jail time, but, to avoid that and to make customers feel more comfortable, they opt to comply with mask mandates and health guidelines. Restaurants and businesses voluntarily do what they can to stop the spread of the virus, he said. 

Several protesters argued that masks are unhealthy to wear because carbon dioxide builds up inside the mask when you exhale. Blodgett said that is not true and that masks work to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

“I guess we’ll just have to disagree about masks,” Blodgett said. “I’m telling you from a perspective of where I’m at, I’m not gonna be the guy enforcing masks. People will be able to choose, but I really wish when you go see grandma, you’d consider whether you want to expose her.”

When protesters argued that they shouldn’t have to wear masks when they’re not sick, Blodgett said it’s the two days after exposure to the virus before symptoms appear that make the difference. 

“I just feel it’s my duty to say I think masks make a difference in the overall picture,” Blodgett said. 

Rigel Stout of Ivins and his parents protested local mask mandates outside the Southwest Utah Public Health Department on Nov. 2. Photo by Megan Webber.

After Blodgett spoke, protesters lingered for a few minutes to discuss what they’d heard. Many of them felt that they were leaving with more questions than answers. 

“I’m here because the people want answers,” Laura Bean of St. George said. “We want answers, and we don’t know who to go to for redress. So we came to the public health department because that’s who the governor is claiming is giving out these orders and we found out today that they’re not and they’re not gonna enforce anything. Now it’s like, okay, now what do we do? I think it ultimately comes down to the people. I think our ultimate goal of people that are educated about this is we need to get the truth out ourselves somehow.”

Katie Paredes, another protester and St. George resident, said she feels lost as to whom to turn to express her concerns, explaining that she sent emails to the governor, who she said never responded.

“We feel lost,” Paredes said. “We need to take a holistic approach to this and be kind and considerate to everyone and not judge based on whether they’re wearing a mask or not.”

Ed. note: A paraphrased quote from Katie Paredes has been clarified.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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