As New Yorkers waited hours at testing sites across the five boroughs Sunday to get a COVID-19 exam, a small but vocal group of pandemic deniers spent their day in Union Square railing against lockdowns, mask-wearing and any other governmental measure geared at stopping the spread of a virus that’s killed more than 250,000 nationwide.
While most of the nation is waiting with bated breath for the COVID-19 vaccination from a variety of pharmaceutical companies, it’s estimated that 40% of Americans will not take it. A group of about 100 people who hold this view sought to highlight their views and attacked media organizations on baseless charges that their side is being censored.
The rally was dubbed “Freedom, anti lock-down and enlightenment rally and march,” organized by Liberate New York, an anti-vaccine, anti-mask and anti lock-down group loosing organized to express these views in the face of science and medical evidence that disputes their claims.
Among those in attendance was Dr. Karin Burkhard, an ardent anti-vaccination advocate, NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” trainer Cara Castronuova, and Heshy Tischler, a Borough Park anti-mask and anti social distancing advocate from Brooklyn.
“I cannot stand when they say New York tough is wearing a mask and social distancing – that’s not tough,” Castrounouva said as about 100 maskless supporters cheered. “That is not the New York I know – this crowd is the New York I know.”
She then bashed Governor Cuomo and started chanting “kick Cuomo out,” and then gave Mayor Bill de Blasio a Bronx cheer saying “he’s the worst mayor in the history of this city.”
Dr. Karin Burkhard, an anti-vaccer and child psychologist, said she wouldn’t wear a mask nor socially distance, claiming it wasn’t necessary. She alleged that vaccines are “causing an autism epidemic in children” — though that allegation has been thoroughly debunked by numerous organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are over vaccinating and destroying an entire generation,” Burkhard charged.
Tischler, who was arrested in September after he was accused of inciting a riot, claimed the government is threatening their freedom with new regulations aimed at controlling the pandemic.
“What is this man, Governor Cuomo, coming after us to wear masks? The governor doesn’t want us to have dinner in our homes. I will have 50 people come to my home for Thanksgiving,” Tischler said.
After some theater of the absurd, in which actors played out the beginning of the pandemic and called it a fraud, the pandemic deniers marched down LaGuardia Place to Washington Square Park to the fountains to further spread the word that masks are no good.
Meanwhile, in reality, COVID-19 remains a very real threat to public health — something demonstrated by the lines of people waiting hours at clinics to get tested in advance of Thanksgiving.
Allysa B. was on line at CityMD on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn for four hours, but she said it was “necessary.”
“I’m starting a new job soon so I want to start knowing that I’m ok and make sure others who I will see on the job will be safe too,” she said.
Lauren D. was on line for six hours on Flatbush Avenue and felt it was important because her friend had called her this morning saying she tested positive.
“My friend said she tested positive, so I’m trying to see if I’m positive,” she said. “I want to give her as much information as possible to see if I am positive. I want my friend to have peace of mind and figure out where she got infected and I’d like to be able to contact anyone I’ve been in contact with in the past week if I do have it. I thought it was the responsible thing to do.”
Renee W. said she had left the state and government trackers had called her to make sure she was getting tested.
“I’ve been here since 12:30 p.m. because I have to be tested because I was out of state, otherwise I get in trouble,” she said. “The rule they have with the COVID testing – I went out of state so they want me to be tested again – they already called me once – they check on you so it’s better to be safe than sorry and I didn’t want to be quarantined for 14 days.”
Bob M. said he was on line at Montague Street since 11:30 a.m. Sunday and had also traveled out of state.
“I’m here since 11:30 and I gotta get my COVID test – three other places were already closed off lines at 11 a.m.,” he said. “It’s been fine, it’s a long day, but Cuomo requires you be tested when go out of state, so here I am.”
Theona McFarren-Clancy was on line with her family for 5 1/2 hours, but she understood the reasons.
“It’s important to protect our community and get tested,” Clancy said. “We were temporarily living in Tennessee, but we live here, so now we have to get our second Covid test before we can resume our activities.”