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Editorial: COVID deniers aren’t going away. L.A. needs a plan to deal with them

A person holds up a sign reading, "COVID = scam"
Scott Bayou protests in front of the closed gates of the Dodger Stadium vaccination site Saturday.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

It was probably inevitable that the COVID-19 deniers would show up at Dodger Stadium. It’s one of the largest vaccination sites in the nation and can deliver up to 7,700 shots a day.

And on Saturday that’s what happened. About 50 protesters came to shout misinformation about the coronavirus and wave signs at motorists waiting their turn to get a coveted COVID-19 vaccination. The demonstrators’ message wasn’t focused but rather expressed general opposition to all things COVID: masks, safer-at-home orders, vaccinations and science.

After two or three of them wandered inside the stadium gates, fire department officials temporarily shut the site to incoming traffic, prolonging the wait by about an hour. In retrospect, it may have been an overreaction to a fairly mild threat. But after what happened on Jan. 6, who can blame the authorities for being cautious?

It’s unclear who organized the protest, but it was promoted by a group called Shop Mask Free Los Angeles, whose main form of protest seems to be entering stores and malls without masks and making videos of the ensuing uproar. The COVID-19 deniers are strikingly similar to anti-vaccine activists, or “anti-vaxxers,” and to militant Trump supporters in both rhetoric and protest style. In some cases, they are also same people. Three Southern Californians charged with participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol had also attended local Trump rallies and pandemic restrictions protests.

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The anti-vax groups have also upped their game. In August 2019, after a bitter debate over the tightening of the state’s mandatory vaccination rules for schoolchildren, an anti-vaxxer livestreamed his violent confrontation with Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), a pediatrician and author of the controversial bill. A few weeks later, a woman unhappy with the new rules threw menstrual blood onto legislators at work on the Senate floor. And last month during a budget hearing, three anti-vax activists threatened lawmakers at a public hearing over pandemic-related measures. “We didn’t buy guns for nothing,” one of them said ominously.

After getting attention (and near universal condemnation) for shutting down Dodger Stadium, COVID deniers aren’t likely to stop now. Authorities must be prepared for them to show up at any vaccination site, and it may take more than designating a “protest zone” to keep them from becoming more disruptive in the future.

We’re not arguing that protesters should be rounded up and arrested simply for showing up, but they should be prevented from causing any more delays at a crucial phase of the nation’s mass-vaccination campaign and from notching any more “successes.” They have the right to protest and the right to choose not to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. What they don’t have the right to do is take that choice away from others.


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