Conservative lawmakers gave workers opposed to an impending COVID-19 vaccine requirement a venue Wednesday to voice their frustrations both with the mandate and the government imposing it.
The hearing, organized by the legislature’s Conservative Caucus, drew testimony from dozens of residents opposed to a vaccine or weekly testing requirement for employees of the state, nursing homes and state hospital facilities as well as people who work with school children. The requirement was ordered by Gov. Ned Lamont and goes into effect next week.
Standing in the Legislative Office Building, the Republican lawmakers told reporters the hearing would give residents a chance to raise their concerns to the legislature after the state Capitol complex had remained closed to the public throughout the session.
“For about a year and half now, the legislature’s been sheepish and afraid to hear from the public with regard to these pandemic-related rules, executive orders,” Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, said. “We’re here today, not to prejudge, no preconceived notions, but to open the doors so that members of the public can come and explain their stories.”
Over several hours, they heard from residents working in professions that are covered by the state vaccine requirement. They included nurses and teachers. Several were bus drivers, who fall under the requirement as contractors to local school boards. Many vented anger directed either at the governor or state government in general.
“I’m here to tell you that a tsunami is forming, a wave so big that it will wash clean the corruption and filth that you have created,” said Ashley Madore, a bus driver in Bristol. “We the people are tired of your overreach, your hunger for control, your disregard for basic God-given rights afforded to us, not by you but by God almighty and you have no right to stand between us and God’s word. People are realizing you are the problem and they’re realizing they have the power to fix it.”
Many speakers doubted the COVID vaccine’s efficacy and some expressed a deep distrust of the media. Tom Kenyon, a precision machining teacher at Kaynor Technical High School in Waterbury, said he did not believe the information reported on the news.
“They’re asking us to take an injection that I don’t think is a vaccine. I don’t think it’s good for me. What it contains, I don’t really know. I do understand it can have aborted fetal properties in there. My spiritual beliefs– by the way, I invited the Holy Spirit to be here today so if you feel that feeling inside you, he’s here,” Kenyon said, prompting applause from some gathered in the hearing room.
Others told the lawmakers that the vaccine requirement would cause staffing shortages in critical fields. Tyra Scarpellino, a former emergency room nurse with Hartford HealthCare, said after weathering the early pandemic, she left her job rather than consent to weekly testing. Scarpellino blamed unions for not supporting nurses.
“They don’t care that there’s a small army of us who are ready to walk out,” she said. “But you know what? They will care because all those suit-wearing nurses who haven’t done bedside care in years, they’re going to have to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.”
Opponents of the vaccine represent a minority of residents in Connecticut, where more than 2.3 million people have been fully vaccinated. The state’s high vaccination rates are generally credited with helping Connecticut avoid the overcrowding in hospitals seen in some states during a recent surge in cases caused by the delta variant.
As of last week, the state Public Health Department estimated that people who chose not to be vaccinated were at eight times higher risk of dying from the disease and six times higher risk of needing to be hospitalized than their vaccinated counterparts.
In a joint press release, Senate President Martin Looney and Majority Leader Bob Duff said Wednesday’s hearing demonstrated the impact disinformation was having on the Republican party.
“We all must ignore the lies around COVID, trust the science, and speak only to the facts. The COVID vaccine is safe, effective, and will save lives. People are needlessly dying for failing to act responsibly. Get vaccinated,” Looney and Duff said.
Despite a policy that people wear masks inside the Legislative Office Building, as well as an executive order requiring unvaccinated people to wear masks while indoors in public, most of the attendees and legislators at Wednesday’s hearing declined to wear face coverings.
In a statement, House Speaker Matt Ritter said they had put others at risk including legislative staff and the Capitol Police.
“I hope House Republican leaders take action against these elected officials who blatantly and purposefully broke our building’s public health policy,” Ritter said. “I want to remind every member that risked people’s health today that they will be wearing masks on Monday during special session when they are in any public space.”