COVID protest organizer stands firm

Blayone won’t change views despite sick family member

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

The organizer of a Peace River protest against the UCP government’s approach to COVID-19 that also included anti-mask signs says he is not going to stop despite a close family member getting diagnosed with the illness.

Bob Blayone organized a protest of about 15 people on Aug. 29 and has been promoting a similar “celebration of rights and freedoms” Sept. 27 in Grande Prairie.

Some of Blayone’s other close family members attended his protest, where no one wore masks. Protest attendee Marcie Lafontaine held a sign that said, “Hugs Not Masks.”

Blayone believes the rights, freedoms and civil liberties of Albertans are being violated in the name of public health. He has stated online that “this is not a pandemic” and called mask pushers “angry and controlling.”

“It would be very hypocritical and disingenuous of me to stop advocating against the COVID public health orders of the day, because someone very close to me experienced health complications brought on by COVID, that being pneumonia,” Blayone says.

While he says his family member did not end up in ICU, “As I have acknowledged all along, COVID does cause health complications such as pneumonia, as all coronavirus and influenza strains do.”

Blayone speaks from personal experience.

“I, myself, suffered a debilitating health complication from influenza when I was 38 years old. I recovered, but it was not fun.”

Influenza is often cited in discussions in online groups that also spread misinformation about vaccinations and the novel coronavirus. Experts say COVID-19 is more contagious and serious than the flu, and appears to have long-term effects in some percentage of cases such as lung scarring, brain damage, and heart damage. New evidence shows it often causes blood clotting which may lead to heart attacks or strokes.

While so far COVID-19 appears to be more deadly than the flu, any fair comparison with the flu is difficult since unprecedented measures have been taken to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Medical experts in Canada are recommending Canadians get their flu shots to avoid overloading the healthcare system as flu season begins, while a vaccine for COVID-19 doesn’t yet exist and may not be widely available until 2021.

Blayone regularly takes to social media to downplay the risk of the virus, often citing the work of renowned medical researcher Dr. John Ioannidis to support his belief that lockdowns are unnecessary. Ioannidis has clarified his views in recent interviews but they remain controversial within the larger medical community, where the consensus is that lockdowns and social distancing are important measures to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The issue of whether or not to make masks mandatory has divided the community, with anti-mask advocates chiding mask wearers for “living in fear” and mask advocates accusing anti-maskers of lack of compassion for others. So far, Peace River town council has focused on education rather than mandating masks in town.

Blayone says having a family member hospitalized has not changed his opinion on the risks of the new virus.

“It does not change my point of view one bit. Because many more people are being harmed very badly by the ongoing COVID public health measures,” Blayone says.

Blayone adds he is more concerned about the mental health challenges of the pandemic such as anxiety and depression, as well as substantial increases in suicide, domestic abuse, substance abuse, and trauma to children.

“Furthermore, the isolation of our beloved seniors, locked away like prisoners, given no freedom of choice on the matter is appalling,” he says.

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, relaxed the rules for long-term care home visits in July, allowing two support people from among family and friends to visit seniors indoors.

However, some facilities have recently had to lock down to visitors again due to rising cases in the local community.

“Lastly, the economic fallout and devastation has also been substantial,” Blayone says.

“[Premier] Jason Kenney pegs that at 15 per cent, which is very debatable and many suggest that figure is much higher. Even at 15 per cent, that is still a lot of jobs, jobs which could save lives and feed families.

“We need every single job opportunity.”

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