Debunking mask mandate conspiracy theories from the Salt Lake County Council meeting

Public comment arguing against mandatory face coverings on Tuesday included references to right-wing conspiracy theories.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People gather inside the Salt Lake County Government Center chamber on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, to protest the recent mask mandate issued by the Salt Lake County Health Department and Mayor Jenny Wilson. Several public commenters referenced fringe conspiracy theories to argue against the mask order.

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The Salt Lake County Council took hours of public comment into Tuesday evening about the 30-day mandatory face-covering order enacted by county Health Department Executive Director Dr. Angela Dunn last week. The council will hold a vote on terminating the mandate later this week.

Several speakers referred to debunked claims about masks being ineffective in stopping the virus and misinformation about vaccines. While other speakers, hoping to sway the council to end the mask mandate, referenced fringe conspiracy theories that have crept into the political mainstream.

Let’s take a look at some of them:

One speaker was Aaron Davidson, who said he is the Utah area representative for People’s Rights, a right-wing website that provides information on being self-reliant in case of a government collapse. Davidson repeated misinformation that “heart attacks and strokes are a side effect of the vaccine.” In reality, heart problems resulting from the COVID-19 vaccination are very rare — and most of those rare cases are mild.

Austin Abecht referenced the “McCullough protocols” for treating COVID. Cardiologist Peter McCullough has made several inaccurate claims about COVID-19 and vaccines. In an interview with podcaster Joe Rogan, McCullough repeatedly claimed the pandemic was planned, a conspiracy advanced by the discredited pseudodocumentary “Plandemic.”

Carola Michel of Sandy told council members that “all codes, rules and regulations are unconstitutional and lacking due process” and “the common law is the real law.” She also said, “all fiction of law is null and void.”

Michell was referencing rhetoric familiar to the “sovereign citizen” movement, which believes the original U.S. government enacted by the founders, referred to as “common law,” was secretly replaced by an illegitimate government sometime in the 1800s. They believe they are immune to all government laws and regulations and reject the government’s legitimacy. The anti-government extremist movement is considered a domestic terrorism threat by federal law enforcement.

One woman implored the council to not “let this country fall like Australia.” Right-wing media has been falsely portraying Australia’s pandemic response as a sudden slide into authoritarianism.

There were references to hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin being effective treatments for COVID-19. There is no evidence that either drug is an effective treatment against the virus.

Utah County’s Jamie Pack claimed her best friend died after being given remdesivir to treat COVID-19. That’s a conspiracy in right-wing circles at the moment, which says people who go to the hospital for coronavirus are being murdered by doctors who have a financial incentive to use therapies they know will kill them.

One speaker referenced Children’s Health Defense, a charity run by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and cited as a significant source of vaccine misinformation during the pandemic.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People gather outside the Salt Lake County Government Center on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, to protest the recent mask mandate issued by the Salt Lake County Health Department and Mayor Jenny Wilson.