The Daily Gamecock

Anti-mask mandate protest on Horseshoe met with counterprotest

<p>The USC Turning Point USA chapter and the Carolina Socialists protest on the Horseshoe over the mask mandate. The mask mandate was put in place by interim university President Harris Pastides on Aug. 18, 2021.</p>

The USC Turning Point USA chapter and the Carolina Socialists protest on the Horseshoe over the mask mandate. The mask mandate was put in place by interim university President Harris Pastides on Aug. 18, 2021.

The USC Turning Point USA chapter was met by the Carolina Socialists during its protest against interim university President Harris Pastides' mask mandate Saturday on the Horseshoe outside of the President's House.

The Carolina Socialists counterprotested Turning Point USA's stance on the mask mandate, holding up signs that said "Care About Others" and "How Many Caskets?" Turning Point USA's protest circled the Horseshoe, chanting "Mask Free USC," while the Carolina Socialists' cries of "Mandate Masks" could be heard. Turning Point also held up signs saying, "Why mask when vaxxed?", "Wear a mask or don't, it's a choice" and "Freedom over Fear."

The protesters moved to Greene Street, where Turning Point USA members gave speeches about the organization's stances. Bystanders stopped to listen to the debates.

Sasha Sawyer, a fourth-year chemistry student, said they think it's ridiculous people aren't willing to put a mask on.

"We think it's not a huge deal to put a f— cloth over your face to protect people who can't get vaccinated or to protect the wider community from the effects of long COVID or the effects of the delta variant," Sawyer said.

Members of USC's Turning Point USA chapter and the Carolina Socialists stop debating to wave, give thumbs up and present their signs. The USC chapter of Turning Point USA held a protest on the Horseshoe to denounce the recently reinstated mask mandate at the university, and the Carolina Socialists counterprotested.

According to the New York Times, the daily average of COVID-19 cases in South Carolina is 3,621, as of Aug. 20.

A student who prefers to remain anonymous said they were nervous coming back to class before the mandate was put in place due to the current spread of COVID-19.

"If everybody's wearing their mask, it helps slow down the spread of transmission," they said.

According to the Mayo Clinic, wearing masks helps stop the spread of COVID-19. Its website says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends fabric masks for the general public.

"People who haven't been fully vaccinated should continue to wear face masks in indoor public places and outdoors where there is a high risk of COVID-19 transmission," the Mayo Clinic's website says.

Student Government senators John Hladun and Matt Harris were at the protest, protesting with Turning Point USA. Hladun spoke to the crowd, saying he and Harris have decided to make the mask issue one of their more important issues this senate term.

Hladun also thanked Student Body President Alex Harrell in his speech for "coming out to show support."

"I'm here to listen," Harrell said. "I think this is one of the most beautiful things about being on a college campus, is we can have two groups who fundamentally disagree with each other but come out here and protest what they believe in and exercise their first amendment right."

The protesters returned to the Horseshoe and set up in front of the President's House again to continue the protest.

Harris said he was protesting with Turning Point because he's heard a majority of students from the College of Engineering and Computing, which he represents in the student senate,  are not in favor of the mask mandate.

Harris said he supports those who want to wear a mask but feels that students shouldn't be forced to wear one indoors.

"We're gonna try to get a recommendation going in senate; see if we can get that passed. And once that gets through, maybe set up a meeting with Pastides, with whoever co-sponsors the bill, and they're going to talk things through and kind of let them know that this is what the students are in favor for," Harris said.

Hladun said he thinks it's good for "people to be out here discussing these matters."

Hladun said he thought the protest would be a civil matter, but he said the Carolina Socialists were "spewing expletives and hateful comments towards the members of the anti-mask side."

Later, Hladun and many members of Turning Point USA and the Carolina Socialists were in a debate about their stances. Hladun said at one point, "Look at how crazy they are," referring to how the pro-mask protesters expressed disappointment about the anti-mask protesters' opinions.

The debate turned into an argument about abortion, with the pro-mask protesters leaving shortly after.

University spokesperson Jeff Stensland said USC "always encourages students with different opinions and perspectives to share them."

"The current face covering policy is in place so that we can more safely return to campus with face-to-face instruction," Stensland said.