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Mask protesters disrupt Lamont’s back-to-school event

August 25, 2021 GMT

CHESHIRE, Conn. (AP) — A roundtable discussion on the state’s plans for safely reopening Connecticut schools for in-person learning was interrupted Wednesday by anti-mask and anti-vaccine protesters, some with young children in tow, angrily shouting and accusing Gov. Ned Lamont and other officials of being criminals.

The commotion caused the event to abruptly end. Some in the group then followed the Democratic governor to his car, shouting profanities and comparing the state’s COVID mitigation steps to Nazi Germany. A handful carried signs, including one that read “Masks Can Be Harmful to You.” The Hartford Courant reported there were a few dozen protesters on hand.

“These bullying tactics will not change what we all know to be true and agreed upon by both the scientific and academic communities: Masks work and they help to keep our communities safe, especially young children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated,” Lamont spokesperson Max Reiss said in a statement.

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Lamont previously signed an executive order that requires masks to be worn in schools until at least Sept. 30, when his emergency powers are set to expire. It remains uncertain what will happen after that date. Dr. Deidre Gifford, the state’s acting public health commissioner, said it will depend on the level of COVID-19 infection.

“I think it depends on what happens with our cases in the state of Connecticut. We are seeing lots of COVID around the country, but we are seeing in schools ...where masks were not required at the beginning of the school year and there was lots of COVID in the community, we’ve seen very significant disruptions in in-person learning,” Gifford said.

Connecticut continues to see more cases of COVID-19. As of Wednesday, there were 378 more reported probable and confirmed cases since Tuesday. Meanwhile, the number of hospitalizations declined by 13 to 378.

The event began as planned, with state and local school and public health officials giving updates on plans for maintaining in-person instruction for students and faculty as the pandemic continues.

After about 20 minutes, shouts came from the back of the room. One man, who was not wearing a mask, yelled, “Every one of you are criminals!”

Nancy DiNardo, chairman of the Connecticut Democrats, called on her counterpart in the state Republican Party to denounce such disruptive, hostile behavior.

“The Connecticut Republicans like to say they are past the extremism of the Trump era. But mask protests like today’s in Cheshire are happening across the state,” DiNardo said in a statement. “Disagreeing on policy is part of our process. But this behavior, and similar protests at recent Board of Education meetings in Bristol and Fairfield, has no place in political discourse.”

Ben Proto, the state GOP chairman, said Democrats “have no proof” the protesters were Republicans. However, he said in a statement that the GOP understands the “frustration of parents who have had the control of their children’s education wrenched away from them by a power-hungry Governor and his Democrat enablers in the legislature.”

Proto said the party encourages “all parents and citizens who want to make their voice heard about their child’s well-being in school to do so in a civil and orderly manner. In no way do we discourage them from speaking out.”