Updated August 22, 2020 - 6:03 pm
About 200 people gathered Saturday morning at a south Las Vegas intersection — with no masks in sight — armed with flags, signs and banners to protest what they said is an unconstitutional mandate from Gov. Steve Sisolak.
It was the sixth demonstration the No Mask Nevada PAC has organized to protest face mask restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic, which as of Saturday had killed 1,027 people in Clark County and resulted in 56,010 people testing positive, according to the Southern Nevada Health District.
While numerous protesters held signs supporting President Donald Trump, No Mask Nevada chair Melissa Blundo said people from across the political spectrum support their cause. She said the rally was about the mask mandate, not the political divisiveness brought on by the pandemic.
“Talking about the pandemic, you can find statistics on one side or the other,” Blundo said. “So it’s irrelevant. Our goal about our movement is that the mask is a choice, not a mandate.”
The organization originally organized the protest for Wednesday, but Blundo said she rescheduled it after hearing from a Metropolitan Police Department captain that Lt. Erik Lloyd’s funeral would be held the same day. Blundo said she rescheduled the protest so officers who would have observed it while on duty could instead participate in Lloyd’s funeral procession.
Lloyd, who was the president of the Injured Police Officers Fund, died July 29 after contracting the coronavirus. At his funeral, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said that “today, the greatest threat to officers is unseen, unprovoked and deadly,” referring to the virus.
Saturday’s protest started at 10 a.m. at Eastern Avenue and Pebble Road. Within an hour, nearly 200 people had arrived.
At the start, two officers approached Blundo to ask her to place coolers and large poles attached to flags inside cars, due to a Clark County ordinance that bans metal or plastic pipes at protests that are more than ¾-inches thick.
While Las Vegas passed an emergency ordinance banning some items from protests, including coolers, following anti-racism demonstrations, the ordinance does not apply to the intersection of Saturday’s protest, which was in unincorporated Clark County.
“This is the first we’ve heard of it,” Blundo said about the ordinance banning poles, later adding police had never asked demonstrators to remove items during past protests, and that officers have “all been very encouraging” about their demonstrations.
As of about 11:50 a.m., at least six protesters were seen with flags attached to large poles. Police at Black Lives Matter protests in Las Vegas have been seen asking demonstrators to remove coolers and wooden signs that could be used as shields.
At Saturday’s protest, Bill Henggeler, 72, walked through the crowd wearing a coffee filter on his nose, asking others if they wanted one.
“They do as much good as any other mask,” the Henderson resident said of the filter.
Brian Labus, an assistant professor at UNLV’s School of Public Health and a member of the governor’s medical advisory team, said surgical masks and cloth masks are effective at reducing the spread of the virus. Wearing masks at all times in public is important because people can spread the deadly virus without showing symptoms, he said.
“The reason we wear masks is the same reason we put a Kleenex over your nose and mouth when you cough,” said Labus, an epidemiologist and biostatistician. “It doesn’t completely eliminate transmission, but it does reduce it.”
Henggeler said he believes data on the number of people who have died from the coronavirus has been inflated.
“This is political bull——,” he said. “COVID exists, but it’s not killing us.”
Colene Stevens, of North Las Vegas, also said she believes coronavirus data is inflated “to control people,” specifically calling out Democrats.
“I believe that the majority of this is a hoax,” Stevens said, holding a sign that read “Sheeple,” depicting a sheep wearing a surgical face mask.
Labus on Saturday dismissed the idea that coronavirus data would be skewed by politicians.
“Scientists put together the numbers; scientists are in charge of determining how many cases there are,” he said.
As of Saturday, 1,197 in Nevada have died from the virus and 65,069 have tested positive, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Nationally, 180,000 people have died from the virus.
Contact Katelyn Newberg at email@example.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_nebwerg on Twitter.