GENESEO – A protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates for health care workers turned heads on Route 20A near the Noyes Urgent Care at 50 E. South St. Thursday afternoon, especially two protesters who were seen carrying apparently homemade posters bearing large swastikas.
Billed by organizers as a “freedom rally,” Thursday’s protest was scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m. A witness said protesters lined both sides of Route 20A near the Noyes Urgent Care. Many cars honked their horns in apparent support of the protesters’ anti-vaccine mandate stance, according to the witness.
Pat Krenzer, the manager of Byrne Dairy at 39 E. South St., was working Thursday afternoon when the protest started and, being right across the street from Noyes, had a good view of things.
Speaking Friday morning, Krenzer put the number of protesters at between 25 and 30 and said she can understand their reasons for protesting.
“I’m fully vaccinated, I believe in vaccines, vaccines are good but I know there’s a lot of people who are afraid of them or they just don’t feel like they should have to get vaccinated,” she said. “I can understand their want to protest because they’re being forced to be vaccinated.”
At the same time, Krenzer was not pleased to see that some protesters were waving swastikas.
“I don’t think we need to see any Nazi symbolism at all. Same as with the Confederacy – it just promotes hate,” she said. “You’re just going too far and promoting hatred. I had no clue why they’d put that on there – it has nothing to do with the protest, unless they’re trying to say we’re Nazi Germany.”
In a statement Friday, Kaylee Erwin, a clinical dietician at Noyes Health who helped organize Thursday’s protest in Geneseo, said she doesn’t know who the people carrying the swastika signs were.
“I do know that we distanced ourselves from those holding those posters because it was felt they were misleading,” she said.
Erwin also helped organize a similar anti-vaccine mandate protest outside Noyes Memorial Hospital in Dansville last week with colleague Shanna Burley, a diet technician for Noyes, though there did not appear to be any swastika bearers in attendance.
In August, the state Health Department released an order requiring health care workers to become vaccinated against COVID-19. Under the terms of the mandate, health care workers were required to receive their first vaccine dose by Sept. 27 or face firing.
But earlier this week, a federal court granted a temporary restraining order against the mandate after 17 health care workers, including doctors and nurses, filed a lawsuit, alleging that the mandate nullifies federal anti-discrimination laws for “sincere religious exemptions” granted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The vaccine mandate is now in limbo as the legal challenge progresses through the courts.
The swastika symbol is synonymous with Nazism and the fascist party’s acts of genocide against Jews and other ethnic groups during World War II. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum puts the number of victims murdered by the Nazi regime and its collaborators as high as 17.6 million, a figure that includes some 6 million Jews and 7 million Soviet Union citizens.