“You are not a better or wiser person simply because you’ve ceased to care.”― Clifford Cohen
There are many bad aspects about life in the time of the global COVID-19 pandemic, too many for one accounting on a single blog post.
Obviously, the worst aspect is that COVID-19 kills people. Perhaps not as gruesomely as Ebola – a virus that is so lethal and horrifying that the late Tom Clancy once wrote a Jack Ryan novel (Executive Orders) in which a weaponized version was a crucial plot element – and definitely more survivable, but it still kills people. According to the latest tally on the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU), 4,633,399 men, women, and children (659,985 in the United States alone) have died from the effects of COVID-19.
The pandemic has had a huge ripple effect on every aspect of our lives. Millions of working adults now do their jobs remotely. The world’s global supply chains are suffering logistical logjams. Inflation is causing prices to rise across the board. And all over the planet Earth, there is disagreement, often vicious and even violent, about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, the pros and cons of remote learning for school-age kids vs. traditional classroom study, and mask mandates.
In the United States – and elsewhere, for that matter – there are still millions of adults who are opposed to official mandates regarding vaccinations, social distancing, or the wearing of masks in public spaces. Most – but not all – of these self-styled advocates of “individual freedom” are white, conservative, and self-identify as Christian. And they will go to great lengths to argue that their personal freedoms are important, in their view, than other people’s lives.
“To treat another human being as if they’re expendable is the very definition of evil.” ― Marty Rubin
We saw a particular example of COVID era callousness six days ago at a now-infamous school board meeting in Murfreesboro, Tennessee when Erika (or Erica) Casher, a 36-year-old registered nurse and case manager for Connecticut-based healthcare provider Cigna made headlines after heckling a 17-year-old high school junior, Grady Knox, while he addressed the Rutherford County Board of Education during a debate of whether schools should have mask mandates for faculty, staff, and students.
From USA Today’s Student heckled for saying grandmother died of COVID-19 because someone didn’t wear mask, written by reporter Scott Broden of the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal:
“…I’m worried about my family. If I get COVID, I’m going to bring it to my family, and I talk to my grandparents a lot. They are higher risk than me, so I don’t want to give them COVID.
“This time last year, my grandmother, who was a former teacher at the Rutherford County school system, died of COVID because someone wasn’t wearing a mask.”
Tennessee High schooler Grady Knox’s passionate plea for the health of himself and others was mocked earlier this week at a Rutherford County Board of Education meeting, a scene which has drawn national attention to this hyper-divisive debate.
Knox was ridiculed, even laughed at, Tuesday evening by some in the school board meeting audience when he said his grandmother died of COVID-19 after being exposed to a person without a mask.
The boos, titters, and calls for Grady to shut up came from several participants, many of whom had stepped up to the mic on the podium before the soft-spoken and polite teen to express their opposition to the board’s proposal to mandate masks for all in schools where in-class learning is conducted.
But one person – Erika Casher – became the poster child for the callousness and selfishness of the anti-mask movement, partly by her actions, but mostly by her choice to sit near the front of the crowd at the school board meeting – and right in view of the video camera recording the meeting.
Per Michelle Willard’s column in the Murfreesboro Voice (Mask debate in Rutherford County Schools shows some adults can act like children):
I learned [long] ago not to sit directly behind the speaker at a publicly televised meeting unless I wanted the world to see me. This lesson came the hard way when I got a text in the middle of a Murfreesboro City Council meeting from my mother telling me how unflattering the shirt I had on was. From then on, I usually sat against a wall, far away from the lectern and the gaze of the camera.
Erica Casher is learning this lesson the hard way too.
She was unfortunate enough to pick a seat in line of sight of the camera at Tuesday night’s special-called Rutherford County School Board meeting and her behavior was broadcast for all to see.
Now she is currently getting dragged across the internet for her immature behavior. She might even get canceled (to invoke a conservative buzz word) with folks from across the nation calling for her to lose her job.
In previous comments to WKRN news, Casher, who is a registered nurse, said masks should be a parent’s choice.
“I’m concerned about mandating them. I saw that in Williamson County, obviously, they did. COVID obviously is real. As a healthcare provider I’m aware of that,” she said. “But, it’s been used to take away our individual liberties over the last year.”
Six days later, Casher is a pariah – at least that’s the impression one gets if you judge the reaction to her behavior at last Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.
The following is a sampling of comments about Casher on various social media sites.
On Facebook, Sara E. writes:
This young man, who lost his grandmother to COVID-19, was explaining why he thinks a mask mandate protecting students and employees is a good thing. The adults behind him? Laugh as he talks about his grandmother’s death.
At least one of the visible hecklers is a registered nurse – a local, right here in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Erika Casher, RN, a Cigna employee, finds his grief, empathy and resulting reluctance to carry COVID back to his home from school absolutely hilarious.
She’s “pro-life”, did I mention?
On September 8, Susan B. wrote:
Last night, I learned that I have so much more respect for many young people than I do for many adults. I hope Ms. Casher is proud of her behavior. ALL night, she snickered, rolled her eyes, and basically belittled everyone who didn’t agree with her (through her expressions and sometimes audible noises).
This young man’s grandmother died during the days of covid, before Delta. She died, in fact, because of unmasked individuals who exposed her to covid. He shared that very thing last night, and many adults laughed.
Death isn’t funny.
I’d like Ms. Erika Casher to know that she and the lady beside her are probably the most disrespectful adults I’ve witnessed in a long time. I believe she has children, and I can be almost certain that her behavior in front of them is not unlike what we witnessed last night.
On Cigna’s Facebook page. Jim M. writes:
Let’s keep it simple…..fire Erika Casher.
On Twitter, Cigna’s social media staff is getting tweets along these lines:
Health, well-being, and peace of mind? Really? Tell that to the grieving teen advocating for good public health policy who is bullied by your employee Erika Casher.
Hey @Cigna, do you know what would make your company really look good? Issue a public statement about #ErikaCasher, your case agent/registered nurse in Tennessee that scoffed at a 17-year-old when he was speaking re COVID, and how his grandma died.
Why it Matters
“It is better to feel pity than to learn how not to feel it.”― Marty Rubin
The world has been feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly two years. We know more about the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in September 2021 than we did in January 2020. We know it is transmitted by humans to humans. We know it is airborne and can be spread when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or even speaks. We know it causes serious lasting damage to the cardiovascular and respiratory system to patients who survive a bout of COVID. And we know that it can kill people of all ages and states of health, not just the elderly or those folks with underlying conditions.
Erika Casher’s behavior is not an isolated event. As noted above, Casher was not the only one at that meeting who heckled Grady Knox as he pleaded with the board members to protect students, faculty, and staff in Rutherford County’s public school. On the various videos you can see online from the September 7 meeting, you can hear male voices say, “Shut up!” to the young man at the podium (Presumably, they belong to some of the citizens who also spoke to the board members – sans masks, of course – to express their opposition to mask mandates.)
But Casher deserves to be the target of public opprobrium because:
- She is a health care worker
- She is a married woman and a mother of school age kids
- She is an adult who should at least have had the courtesy to listen to other people’s opinions with at least a modicum of maturity, even if she disagrees with Grady’s pro-mask stance
Again, per the USA Today article Student heckled for saying grandmother died of COVID-19 because someone didn’t wear mask,:
Knox was among the seven students who asked the Rutherford County Board of Education to require masks. Six of the students represented Central Magnet School, which serves high achievers in downtown Murfreesboro.
Knox: “This is going to continue if we don’t have a mask mandate. Contact tracing has been a big issue for students this year because all of us know that if we get contact traced we’re going to miss at least a week of school. That’s a week of instruction, a week of teacher contact that we’re going to miss.
Knox remained calm while getting heckled. His composure impressed his father, Kerry Knox, a Murfreesboro attorney, who had a sense of disbelief that a crowd would act like that to a child.
And as columnist Michelle Willard reports in the Murfreesboro Voice, Casher was one of the vilest, rudest anti-maskers:
Casher’s behavior in particular has become the face of immaturity, representing much of what’s wrong with public dialogue surrounding COVID-19 and precautions to prevent its spread.
It’s one thing to disagree about how effective masks are or whether you want to get vaccinated. It’s another thing completely to heckle children who had the courage to speak out about their concerns because family members have died from COVID-19.
At this point, almost all of us have lost someone to COVID-19. And I, for one, am sick and tired (no pun intended) of doing my best to prevent the spread of the disease by getting vaccinated, staying home and wearing masks, only to have immature, selfish people like Casher laugh and smirk and act a fool because they have been convinced it’s a conspiracy.
“The obstinacy of those people is funny. That someone may simply be fed up with them and their ways and may want to look for another company, that just cannot enter their heads. They can’t believe it. There must be a trick behind it, a dishonest trick, something crooked, something political, something they can understand. They’re so used to sniffing at their own behinds that when someone wants to get a breath of fresh air, to turn at last to something different, and more important, and threatened, something that’s got to besaved at all costs, it’s quite beyond them.” ― Romain Gary, The Roots of Heaven
I am not an expert on medical topics. I am, first and foremost, a storyteller who dabbles into film, literary, and music criticism, along with a soupcon of journalism and Op-Ed commentary to add variety to the mix. I’m not a virologist or epidemiologist, either. But I do know the basic bullet points on how to “flatten the curve” and “prevent the spread’ of COVID, and I do my best to keep informed about the pandemic.
That’s why I can say with conviction that I’m 90% certain that if people like Erika Casher (and trust me, there are millions of people just like her, here and in other countries) didn’t have this aversion to mask mandates or vaccines, we might have made more progress in fighting COVID-19 earlier – and lost fewer lives as a result.
Instead, we are in the fourth wave of the pandemic and seeing more deaths caused by the Delta variant of COVID-19. A fifth wave is coming soon with the colder months of autumn and winter looming in the not-too-distant future.
And because of rude, immature, and ignorant people like Erika Casher, we are still going to see more people – of all ages – die from a preventable viral disease.
That, my friend, is why the Casher case matters.