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'It’s a constant threat of violence': Health officials say they feel unsafe amid intimidation, threats

Local health officials say politics have overtaken public interest.

With public hearings in Kent and Ottawa counties lasting for hours over the use of masks in schools, public health officials say the debate has gotten out of hand. 

"It's a constant threat of violence," says Linda Vail, the Chief Medical Officer in Ingham County.

Vail is one of many appointed public health officials to receive threats of violence. She's had intimidating letters sent to her home, and says she fears going out in public with her grandchildren because of the way she is treated.

Vail isn't alone. A woman from Grand Blanc was arrested after authorities found what they call a "credible threat" on the life of a public health official in Genesee County. Vail claims it's due to the politicizing of the mask debate that it's gotten so out of hand. 

Joined by other public health officials, the organization "Public Health Over Politicians" have issued a statement saying another coalition, Unlock Michigan 2, is responsible for creating a dangerous atmosphere.

Ron Armstrong, a spokesperson for Unlock Michigan 2, says those threats are completely unrelated to their coalition, and anyone who makes those threats does not represent their organization or views.

"That is absolutely wrong for anyone to make any kind of a threat against anyone, for any reason, or any decision that they make as a political or a healthcare official," Armstrong says. "We absolutely do not condone anything of that sort."

Armstrong says the goal of Unlock Michigan 2 is to impose a new check and balance to the public health officials. Last year, the original Unlock Michigan petition gained more than 539,000 signatures in 80 days. It was aimed at removing the governor's ability to make sweeping emergency orders, and eventually played a role in the repeal of the 1945 Emergency Powers Act.

RELATED: Another lockdown in sight? Governor's powers limited as Delta Variant cases rise

Armstrong says public health officials have been instructed by the state to issue mandates, but could not provide any evidence of this when asked. Throughout our conversation, Armstrong accused 13 On Your Side of not providing evidence about mask effectiveness, rather siding exclusively with health officials at face value. 

He mentioned a study done by the CDC that showed kids don't wear masks properly in school, saying because they don't wear them properly it's more dangerous. 

Here's that study. It shows five of nine COVID clusters being caused by improper mask wearing by students. It goes on to recommend masks as a preventative measure, in addition to physical distancing and vaccination.

Here's another study that mentions a New Jersey summer camp reporting outbreaks from children that did not wear masks.

And this one, that lists masks being worn by teachers as the most effective method to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and recommends face coverings for anyone older than 2 years old.

For more data and information, check the CDC guidance page addressing back to school and the spread of the virus. 

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