A Republican candidate for next year’s 7th Congressional District race stepped into the ongoing debate over a face mask mandate in Gwinnett County schools on Thursday — urging the county’s school board to lift its mandate.
ER surgeon Rich McCormick argued that children are being harmed psychologically by what he called an “overreaction” and “fear mongering” over the Delta variant of COVID-19. He also called the re-usable masks that many people have been wearing during a pandemic a “disease-spreading organism.”
“Do what’s scientifically and anecdotally right and take care of our children by not mandating something that increases a problem,” McCormick said.
While several parents opposed to face mask mandates have addressed the board in recent months to protest the mandate that was put in place in late July, McCormick is the highest profile opponent of the mandate to address the board.
McCormick was the Republican nominee in a congressional race that attracted national attention last year, and he has announced plans to run again in 2022 for the same seat. If McCormick becomes the Republican nominee for the seat again, it would pit him against U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in a rematch of the 2020 race, which Bourdeaux won.
McCormick argued that face masks are not working outside hospital settings.
“I’m a big proponent of being masked when you’re in a hospital,” McCormick said. “There’s great evidence that when medical professionals wear a mask correctly and it’s the right kind of mask, and you’re around an infected patient, you have a 67% reduction of the infection rate, which is great. I’m also a double vaccinated person who wears the mask all day long at work.
“The problem is our children, and pretty much everybody in this room right now, doesn’t wear the right mask, doesn’t wear it the right way, and every time you take it off and put it down here to speak, you just contaminated this area and everything else you’ve been around.
“And, this happens continuously in schools as our kids who wear the same mask over and over again every single day, who doesn’t throw it away after each use, and continues to put it down and pull it down when they use their phone or do whatever they do, are actually increasing the infections rather than decreasing the infections.”
Officials from hospitals around Georgia have raised concerns about a spike in COVID hospitalizations that occurred in the later part of this summer as the Delta variant spread in the community. It has led to hospital officials pleading with unvaccinated residents to get vaccinated against COVID.
McCormick acknowledged that uptick in hospitalizations as he addressed the school board on Thursday.
“I have seen an uptick of people who come to the ER who are being admitted for COVID,” McCormick said. “They are adults. The pediatric patients are not being, by and large, admitted for (COVID) any more than they would for influenza or any other disease.
“What I am seeing a huge uptick for is psychiatric illnesses and (suicidality) and the overreaction that we have toward our children and the fear mongering that we’re doing that has upset their mindset and not mitigating their risk of infection, but actually increased their social anxiety and depression.”
McCormick was not the only healthcare provider who addresses the board about masks, however. Another provider who spoke at the meeting offered support for mask mandates.
Joseph Hitchcock, who is a respiratory therapist who works with COVID patients at a hospital in the area, said masks do work to limit the spread of the disease. He countered what McCormick and other parents who protested the mask mandate at the school board meeting said during public comments.
“Masks prevent the transmission of viruses like COVID by trapping the respiratory droplets that (carry) virus particles,” Hitchcock said. “Wearing a mask protects others around you if you have COVID, but are not yet showing signs of symptoms.
“We have proof that our mask mandate is working to prevent the spread of COVID in our schools. Just recently, (a local TV station) reported last week that Gwinnett county has the lowest child COVID rates of any school district in the greater Atlanta area.”
Hitchcock countered claims of parents who have been claiming for months at board meetings that wear face masks prevents children and adults from being able to breath.
“As a healthcare worker on the front lines, I wear a mask and work 12-plus hours a day with no adverse effects on my ability to breathe,” he said.