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Dozens Gather to Protest State COVID Mandates, Restrictions

May 16, 2021, 7:26 PM HST
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Dozens of people congregated Saturday afternoon along Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway to protest against the state’s COVID-19 mandates, restrictions and the vaccine.

The group started gathering last year. Since mid-January, the Big Island residents have met by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints every Saturday to wave signs and protest the pandemic regulations and face mask requirements.

“What is happening to our community and our keiki is criminal,” said Michelle Melendez, who’s been protesting the restrictions since September of last year. “If this was a true pandemic, people wouldn’t be leaving their houses. If this was a true pandemic, people wouldn’t put a mask on at the door of a restaurant then take it off at the table.”

Melendez told Big Island Now on Saturday the statewide group has asked Gov. David Ige for a town hall meeting to compare regular flu deaths to those related to COVID. Nearly 800 people have signed an online petition seeking a meeting with Ige to appeal the state’s COVID-19 emergency status. Click here for more information on the petition.

“He keeps saying he’s too busy,” Melendez said of Ige.

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Since the governor hasn’t been receptive to their requests, Melendez said the group contacted every one of Hawai‘i’s state representatives and senators last week, who she says are now contacting Ige and telling him he has to meet with his constituents.

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“You can’t ignore the over 800 people who want to meet with you,” Melendez said.

Hawai‘i Island State Senator Dru Kanuha told Big Island Now he has had no contact with Melendez or the group hoping to reverse COVID restrictions. Additionally, Kanuha said he hasn’t seen or heard their claims.

Big Island State Representatives Nicole Lowen and Jeanné Kapela had not returned requests for comment before publication of this article on Sunday evening, May 16.  

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Several states have lifted COVID restrictions and mask mandates. On Thursday, May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its COVID-19 guidelines, rolling back suggested restrictions on fully-vaccinated individuals in the United States.

While Hawai‘i has fewer COVID-19 deaths than most states, Ige announced he would not be lifting restrictions.

“My mask mandate continues to be enforced,” Ige said Thursday. “We continue to evaluate the CDC guidance and will be making adjustments as appropriate.”

Current statewide rules mandate everyone wear face coverings and socially distance while indoors in public settings. Masks can be discarded when outside, assuming six feet of physical distancing can be achieved. If it can’t, masks continue to be a requirement under those circumstances.

The governor said his reasoning is rooted in the fact that only about 40% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated. Another reason he said he will maintain current coronavirus protocols is because state and county law enforcement have no way of determining who is vaccinated and who isn’t on a case-by-case basis. The concern is that residents and visitors who are not fully vaccinated may misrepresent themselves as otherwise in order to avoid COVID safety protocols, which would increase public health risk. 

Since the group has been gathering to protest, Melendez said, they’ve hung out, hugged each other and had dinner together. She said that not one of them has gotten sick.

“Also, God created this body,” she said. “This body has a natural immune system and the media is not talking about how to boost your immune system.”

The vaccine, Melendez added, was approved for emergency use only.

“We don’t know the long-term and short-term effects of the vaccine,” she said. “People getting an experimental vaccine as opposed to boosting your immune system, getting in nature, letting the sun shine on your face, breathing  the God-given air through your God-given nose and mouth.” 

Joe Fagundes, a private practice lawyer in Kona, has been coming to the sign wavings two or three times per month since last year. He said he’s trying to increase awareness.

“There appears to be a lot of misinformation out there and there appears to be a lot of people who rely on mainstream media without doing their own research,” Fagundes said. “People who have done the research, like us, are able to impart more accurate information.”

Fagundes believes there is a contagion.

“I think we have a very contagious, but not very lethal, disease that has run rampant,” he said. “It has been mistreated a lot of times and, around the world, it’s resulted in a lot of deaths.”

Fagundes added, however, that he doesn’t believe the number of cases reported is believable.

“I think there’s been an effort to mislead people into believing that this contagion is much more lethal than it is,” he said.

Fagundes added that he doesn’t know if what he’s doing is making a difference.

“What we’re doing out here feels right to me to try and increase awareness,” he said.

Fagundes hopes leaders of the government will reexamine their positions on restrictions in light of “real science as opposed to being spoon-fed mainstream media diatribe.”

Doctor and health consultant Jack Ebner was also at the protest Saturday. Since December, he has been setting up a “vaccine info” tent three days a week.

“I’m trying to share life-saving information,” he said Saturday.

Ebner said he doesn’t believe in the COVID virus, and asserted that the flu is a body elimination process.

“Medical science has made people afraid of their bodies,” Ebner said. “It’s the treatments that people die from. You don’t want to stop stuff from leaving your body.”

Big Island Now reached out Anne Broderson, a nurse practitioner who has been at the forefront working with Ali‘i Health Center and Premiere Medical Group on COVID-19 testing and vaccination. She said it’s normal to be hesitant with vaccines or any new treatment.

“It’s good to ask questions. Talk to your medical provider,” Broderson said. “When I take vaccines out to communities I’m offering it as an opportunity, I’m not twisting arms.”

Broderson said it is accurate that the vaccines have been approved for emergency use only, however, she added the Pfizer vaccine is close to receiving full approval pending additional data.

Broderson said the short-term effects of the vaccines have been proven safe and effective. 

“We’re getting more data every day, and I don’t anticipate any long-term issues will come up,” she said.

The CDC and the National Institute of Health, along with the Hawai‘i Department of Health, have encouraged all state and US citizens to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The same organizations have cited medical studies as evidence that the vaccines granted emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are safe and highly effective.

The CDC has reported nearly 600,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the United States since the pandemic began. 

 

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