Two UncoverDC articles I've written have been published about Monday protests held by Rochester, New York healthcare workers. The demonstrations against vaccine mandates occur in front of the University of Rochester Medical Center, an institution responsible for threatening and derailing many of its employees' professional careers. The first article was a snapshot of the protests during their ramp-up (week three), and the second documented a sizable and raucous event near the eve of the university's mandate (week six). I attended my third protest recently, the fifteenth in the weekly series, long after the university's mandate went into effect.
A backdrop to the fifteenth protest involves the Rochester version of Anthony Fauci. Commissioner of Public Health for Monroe County, Dr. Michael Mendoza, was scheduled to deliver a book talk at a local library just before the fifteenth protest. I attended the talk, if nothing else, to get a general sense of the man who was the local driver for acceptable lines of thought on COVID.
The audience for Mendoza's talk was what I'd imagine was a regular group of the library's senior patrons. Surprisingly in synch with them, I actually enjoyed Mendoza's address, which was less a book review than an overview of Mendoza's career and experience managing COVID. At the heart of Mendoza's recollections of handling COVID was the idea that he'd followed the science his rivals had not. This certainty meant that Mendoza—at least in that room—could easily present himself as a martyr for the cause of rationality. Mendoza said that many in New York State in positions like his had very recently resigned, and also that he'd received death threats:
"I'm going to close with something that the book talks a lot about, which is hate. Inadvertently, hate. Hate against science, hate against public health officials who represent science. For the better part of this pandemic, I've had the Brighton Police outside my house. My office has gotten death threats; I've gotten death threats. It did not have to be this way. It's hard to not think that that is how most people are. The reality is most people are not that way. But when you get threats against your family, and yourself, and your house, it's really hard. And when you look across the state, nine of the leading state health officials left their job last year. I think a third of my counterparts across the state have resigned or been asked to step down. In the largest counties, we've all hung in there, but it's not fun some days."
Mendoza's audience didn't audibly gasp in horror that someone as selfless as Mendoza could ever be threatened, but that, more or less, was the sense I had of the room. [see 56:30 mark of video]
I almost discarded the idea of spoiling the mood but then forced myself to participate in a question and answer session that followed the doctor's talk. My first question to Mendoza was the easier of the two. My second was a bit dicier, and that was why I warmed up to it with the first.
In a previous UncoverDC article titled "Health Department Intimidation Squad at Broadcaster's Home," radio host Shannon Joy was harassed at her home by two contact tracers and two policemen who came to deliver an order of quarantine to her twelve-year-old daughter. The group had acted on Mendoza's orders. Joy contended that she was the only Monroe County resident ever delivered a quarantine order by contact tracers accompanied by police. This is meaningful as Shannon Joy is recognized locally as Mendoza's most notable critic. If Joy had been the sole person targeted with police by the health department, it wouldn't be very difficult to suspect Mendoza of vindictiveness.
Cut to the chase, Mendoza sidestepped what I had intended as a bullet. He answered my second question that, no, Joy hadn't been the only person visited by contact tracers accompanied by police. It also sounded, however, that such a delivery method was a remarkably rare occurrence. Mendoza estimated such a thing had happened twelve or fewer times. I wasn't able to ask a follow-up question as I might have in a typical interview. By the time I'd finished my question about Shannon Joy, a staff member had taken the microphone from me. An audience member also turned to scold me that Mendoza had already answered my question. She'd been right that I'd asked my question in various ways. I had to assume my audio recording of Mendoza would be the only recording I'd have access to, and Mendoza's responses were often unclear from where I sat in the middle of the room. The transcript:
UncoverDC: And my second question, I read an article about this. There doesn't seem to be two sides to this. It's not well covered, but that the broadcaster Shannon Joy was met at her house by two policemen and two contact tracers. What I have heard is that she's the only person this has ever happened to. Do the police regularly go with contact tracers to people's homes to deliver quarantine orders?
Mendoza: No, it's a rare event. She's not the only one. But the isolation order's binding. It's public health law that's enforceable. We don't want to go that route because my role as the health department is, in general, not to enforce anything. We want to prevent and educate. We only enforce when we have to, but when we get inclinations, when someone says, "I'm going to Wegman's (Market) now" – I didn't say, that's not what she said. I made that up. – but if somebody says that they're blatantly going to defy their isolation order, we have an obligation to public health to not just sit and watch.
UncoverDC: And do the police regularly attend contact tracers when they...
Mendoza: No, no. We've isolated hundreds of thousands of individuals, probably under a dozen.
UncoverDC: Is she the single person that's happened to, or have the police arrived at other people's houses?
Mendoza: We've had others.
I was disappointed that I hadn't gotten Mendoza to admit the only household he'd ever sent police to happened to be that of his most recognized adversary. Joy was, however, part of an incredibly small group, one of twelve in a pool of "hundreds of thousands."
As I walked toward the healthcare workers' demonstration from where I'd parked, the immediate question was, once I crested the hill, how much demonstration would remain from the earlier weeks. The November day for the fifteenth protest was pleasant, sunny, and sixty-eight, but the prior two Mondays had been miserable. Just another reason the demonstrators might have decided to move on.
Minutes before the demonstration's scheduled start time, not much seemed to be happening. Two loners, possibly patients, each sat at benches of their own. Finally, a gentleman appeared at the corner holding a sign, and a few more bodies materialized. I'd just sat down at an empty bench myself but then left for the intersection. The usual is for demonstrators to seem a little suspicious when you approach and explain you're not with them but there to report on them. I think it'd be unprofessional for me ever to hold a sign/show support visibly, so they take my word or not that I'm partial to the cause. People began trickling in and built into a satisfying force, something not too different from week three. It was not the wild thing I'd seen near the eve of the mandate, but to have lasted long, I felt, was something.
One former nurse at the university's affiliated hospital, Strong Memorial, compared notes with me. She'd had to give up a career at the hospital that I believe she said had lasted more than twenty years. I discussed that despite the attention paid to high-profile pro-vaxxers like Fauci, Cuomo, and locally, Mike Mendoza, the real villains in the debacle were the middle managers. She didn't disagree. People expect politicians to have an insane disconnect from life as the working class knows it. People don't expect the same disconnect from co-workers they've known for decades.
I also ran into Merle McDonald from week three. McDonald and I discussed that many nurses working under religious exemptions were not part of the current protest. McDonald thought that was short-sighted of them. In fact, a week after our conversation, it was announced that the religious exemptions were to be pulled. Those healthcare workers with religious exemptions would be required to be vaccinated before the end of the month. McDonald also told me that she'd received a call from her daughter, radio host Shannon Joy, and that Joy was about fifteen minutes away from the protest. I'd previously interviewed Joy twice but never in person. As I walked along the lines of demonstrators, I kept an eye out for her. If I hadn't, I think I would have walked past her. She was very incognito somehow in a baseball cap.
I asked Joy for a short impromptu interview. I wanted to bring up with her, in a gentle way, the fact Mendoza countered her opinion that she'd been the only person to have contract tracers with police sent to their home. If she'd been mistaken, it wouldn't have been the end of the world, and perhaps it was true that both Mendoza and she were right. Perhaps Joy had been the only person at the time, but that she was then followed by others who'd had the same thing happen. Joy surprised me by saying:
"To our knowledge, there have been no others, and I would guess that he's lying about that. From my sources—I have people on the inside—never has Monroe County sent armed police officers to an individual's home to serve quarantine papers. So I would say you might have gotten him on the record telling a big fat whopper."
I contacted the Monroe County Health Department following our interview to ask if they could settle the matter. I told them I was interested in the exact number of people met at their homes by contact tracers accompanied by police. Mendoza's office directed me to their communications department, and the communications department sent me back to Mendoza's office. In the end, after a series of phone calls and returned calls, I was told I'd have to file a FOIL request to have any chance at the number.
I'm not sure it matters much whether Mendoza singularly targeted Joy with police or if—in Mendoza's estimate—she just happened to be one of twelve out of hundreds of thousands. Either way, Mendoza's chief critic belongs to a group so small, seen in the context of the whole, you could fit it on the head of a pin. The optics aren't stellar for Mendoza either way. And then there is also another angle to the affair of the book talk. It's something that came to me considering I'm a librarian by profession and also heard Mendoza speak in a library setting.
There is the fact that Mendoza's ideological rivals—researchers, physicians, nurses—have been silenced online. So, Mendoza and those on his side of the vaccine debate are significant beneficiaries of censorship. The fact that it went unaddressed in a library setting isn't surprising, knowing what I do about the library world, just interesting that even in a library, online censorship would be a non-issue—an accepted part of the media landscape.
One apt example among many of COVID censorship:
In Dr. Simone Gold's book I Do Not Consent, she recounted a pivotal summit by physicians belonging to the organization, America's Frontline Doctors. A video from the event of a press conference was posted online and received more than twenty million views on Facebook in six hours. Facebook then removed the video with the expressed opinion that the video had been censored for "sharing false information about cures and treatments for COVID-19". Gold spelled out in her book exactly how censorship of information about hydroxychloroquine—a COVID treatment covered at the summit—had affected the COVID death totals:
"And most tragic of all, the aggressive campaign against HCQ cost half to three-quarters of the two hundred thousand American lives attributed to COVID-19."
The regular dismissal of non-establishment medical opinion throughout the COVID era, and censorship of treatments not promoted by the pharmaceutical industry, were reasons behind another opinion Joy shared in our interview. Joy made, in fact, just the sort of provocative statement that could land a person in the crosshairs of their local health department.
I discussed with her the book talk I'd attended at the library. I described that everyone in the room nodded along with Mendoza throughout his presentation, appreciated what he had to say, and that whichever way in which Mendoza is evil is a thing hard to tag. Most people I imagined couldn't see anything amiss in his presentation unless, of course, they were one of those in danger of losing their employment and having their life upended. Joy commented about Mendoza,
"He won't come into difficult venues. He refuses to answer tough questions. He hides, and so he is the worst of a public servant."
The same can be said of any of our COVID czars: that they don't welcome debate, even so far as using censorship, and arguably intimidation, as tools.