JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A recently formed Facebook group among local residents regarding masks and the COVID-19 pandemic is gaining traction along with membership.
The group named “Johnson City Freedom” was formed by Danielle Goodrich, a local mother and Johnson City resident, a few months ago and within weeks, over 800 citizens in the Johnson City and greater Washington County, Tennessee area have joined.
The group calls for no more mandates, no more quarantines, no more censorship and no more over reach by local government officials, among other things, when it comes to the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In recent weeks, members of the newly formed group have held events expressing their views on the mandates and current restrictions in place. Just this week, members of the group appeared in a Youtube video appealing directly to local leaders in Washington County, Tennessee.
The video features members of the group who range in profession from doctors to realtors to just concerned parents. Each person states their profession in the area and their concerns regarding the handling of the virus, one of the biggest concerns being the enforcement of county-wide mask mandates.
Shannon Myers said he joined the group a few weeks ago due to concerns regarding what he said is ‘overreach’ when it comes to personal health care decisions.
Myers said he’s very understanding of all sides of the argument and has nothing against those who do choose to wear a mask, but said the keyword is ‘choice’. His argument stands on the grounds that wearing a mask should be an individual choice and not an enforced order.
“I just would like to see people be able to have their opinion and also have that sovereign right to their own bodies and their children’s bodies, and be able to make their own health care decisions for themselves,” said Myers.
Others in the group, like Melissa Housewright, share similar opinions. Housewright actually had contracted COVID-19 this past summer. She told News Channel 11 she has an auto-immune deficiency which according to the CDC would put her in an at-risk category in terms of recovery from the virus.
Housewright said she had the virus for two whole weeks, and despite her contracting the virus personally, she still stands strong on her stance that wearing a mask should be a choice. In fact, while speaking to News Channel 11’s Kelly Grosfield, Housewright advocated for social distancing measures over the wearing of a mask and said she believes social distancing is more effective in stopping the spread.
“I’m not saying COVID is not real, because COVID is real. but I just think a lot of people are fearful and I don’t think we should be fearful to not wear a mask if we choose not to,” said Housewright.
However, it’s not just about enforcing masks upon residents. Goodrich said she simply just wants answers from the county as to why they believe these mandates are the best for citizens. She also said there is a lot of confusion when it comes to these mandates, specifically when it comes to the topic of children in masks.
According to the county mandate, children 12 and up must wear a mask, yet her two children, ages 5 and 7, are told to wear a mask every day while in the classroom.
News Channel 11 reached out to Johnson City School officials and recieved this statement:
“The Johnson City Board of Education has the authority to set safety protocols for the school district. Just like a dress code or requiring students to wear safety equipment in shop class, the board has set a policy to mandate students wear face masks inside the schools as we endure the COVID-19 pandemic.”Collin Brooks, Johnson City Schools Spokesperson
News Channel 11 also reached out to the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Department with questions regarding the effectiveness of masks this far into the pandemic and have yet to receive a comment back.
All of the concerns expressed by the “Johnson City Freedom” group can also be found in a recent online petition. The concerns expressed in the petition are the same concerns brought before Washington County, Tennessee mayor, Joe Grandy.
Grandy told News Channel 11 that he did in fact meet with the group and that they spent nearly two hours together. “It’s a great group of folks and they have concerns about the masks and they have some research and as you know, with most situations, there is conflicting research, and there are pros and cons, and we spent about two hours together,” said Grandy.
He understands the concerns people have, but he said at this time his priority is not only safety but getting our economy up and running. For that reason, a mask mandate will stay in place for the time being.
“I don’t think any of us enjoy wearing these masks but it’s generally in my opinion, a small price to pay for businesses being open and our children being able to be in the classroom,” said Grandy.
Grandy said at the end of this mandate, data will be analyzed to decide how to move forward.
Goodrich told us she as curious as to why surrounding counties have lifted their mask mandates yet this one remains in place. “The reason we did our video is because we have a message to those we elected to represent us and we don’t feel like they’re representing us, we don’t feel like they’re listening to us,” she said.