Louisiana lawmakers COVID-19 hearing punctuated with outbursts, doubt

At Monday’s meeting, audience members spoke of their distrust of health officials, government

By: - August 16, 2021 8:16 pm

Dr. Kanter answers questions at the vaccine information meeting (Photo by Rachel Mipro/Louisiana Illuminator)

The Louisiana lawmakers vaccine information meeting Monday got off to a rocky start when members of the audience refused to abide by the state’s indoor mask mandate.

The meeting, which was scheduled for 10 a.m. at the state Capitol, began 20 minutes late while attendants tried to settle the audience and distribute masks to members of the public. 

The House Health and Welfare Committee called the meeting  to discuss the state’s COVID-19 data and vaccine mandates in schools and colleges. 

One woman tried to get the others to follow her lead and take off their masks, shouting, “They can’t remove us all.” Another tried to bend the rules with a mesh mask. The Legislature’s security escorted people out of the committee room several times.

Lawmakers at the hearing shared their personal COVID-19 stories and concerns. Rep. Robby Carter (D-Amite) said he had recently gotten a third COVID-19 vaccine dose because of his kidney transplant, and was in favor of getting the extra dose approved for everyone as soon as possible. 

 “I’m tired of going to funerals and tired of hearing my friends died,” Carter said. 

Rep. Raymond Crews (R-Bossier City) took the opposite approach, advocating for “natural immunity.”  Government messaging needs to focus on getting people to take more vitamins, he said, even though health care experts have not said vitamins will protect a person from getting COVID-19.

“Tell them, ‘Hey, obesity is a huge factor, you need to fight this, you need to exercise, you need to get outside, you need to eat well,’ emphasize these things and build up natural immunity,” Crews said. 

Louisiana state health officer Dr. Joesph Kanter emphasized that the latest strain of COVID-19, delta, is more dangerous for children. There were 10 children admitted to pediatric units with COVID-19 a month ago. In the past week, there were 88 children admitted to hospitals, he said.

LSU President William Tate, University of Louisiana System President Jim Henderson and Southern University President Ray Belton said their higher education institutions would require COVID-19 vaccinations once full FDA approval has been given, though under state law, students will be able to apply for vaccine mandate exceptions. 

LSU released its COVID-19 protocol for the fall semester two weeks ago, saying that students must submit either proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to return to campus. Unvaccinated students will be tested regularly. 

“We think we have a solid plan with respect to how we’re surveilling the system and how we’re keeping the classrooms safe along with the mask policy,” Tate said. 

Audience members waited hours to speak. When they got the chance, most of them criticized the vaccine and mask-wearing.

Martina Brown, a Black woman, compared her anti-mask position to the Civil Rights movement, saying forcing her son to wear a mask would be a slap in the face to his great-grandmother.  

“The psychological, the emotional, and even the intellectual development of our children, those can be stunted by putting muzzles on–if you want to call them masks–over their face. A mask actually covers the entire face. What you all are wearing are muzzles,” Brown said.  

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

Rachel Mipro is a contributing reporter to the Illuminator. She has previous experience at WBRZ and The Reveille and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Louisiana State University. At LSU, she worked as an opinion editor for The Reveille and as a nonfiction editor for the university’s creative writing journal. In her free time, she enjoys baking, Netflix and hiking.