EFFINGHAM — Effingham County Board Chairman Jim Niemann withdrew the proposed “Medical Freedom Resolution” on Monday during a meeting of the Legislative Committee of the Whole.
The resolution was introduced by Board Vice Chairman David Campbell as the “My Body, My Choice” resolution and amended by Niemann because he was not happy with the wording of Campbell’s resolution.
“The feedback to me has been overwhelmingly negative,” Niemann said. “I am withdrawing this. I won’t be sponsoring this. I’m not going to divide us any further.”
“If we work against each other, there is absolutely nothing that will get done except fighting,” he said. “And if we work together, there is absolutely nothing we can’t do.”
“I withdraw it,” Niemann said.
Board member Heather Mumma said she sent 250 text messages to her personal constituents in District C with a survey of three questions and only received 11 responses.
“Five of which said, ‘Please stop texting me,’” Mumma said.
She said she also received 11 emails that were against the resolution.
Board member John Perry said several people he talked to supported the resolution.
“What I was worried about is shutting down businesses,” Campbell said about why he proposed the first resolution. “That was the real reason. I just didn’t want to see any businesses get hurt by it.”
“The whole reason was not to say we didn’t support vaccines,” he said. “Anyone who wants to get a vaccine can go get it. But, we don’t want to mandate someone who doesn’t want to get it.”
“I have a problem with these resolutions in general,” Board member Joe Thoele said. “We should be just concentrating on county issues. This is just pitting county citizens against each other and I don’t think that is a good idea.”
Board member Rob Arnold agreed about not pitting citizens against each other.
“But right now they (Arnold’s constituents) are basically asking for unity not separation,” Arnold said.
People who signed up before the meeting to speak about resolution were allowed to voice their opinions, even though the resolution was officially withdrawn by Niemann.
Judy Bergfeld was a nurse for 39 years before coming out of retirement to work with the Effingham County Health Department during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m here to speak against the Medical Freedom Resolution proposed by David Campbell,” Bergfeld said. “I wonder how many people from our community we must lose before people take this seriously. That’s why I believe it your responsibility to look out for our community. You need to be leaders and embrace masks and get us through this mess. Please, step up and be the leaders you were elected to be.”
Dr. Jennifer Dust, an OBGYN practicing in Effingham, shared her views on the resolution.
“Our hospitals are full, our tertiary care centers are full and our ability to safely care for patients will suffer because of COVID,” Dust said. “As a practicing physician and dedicated member of this community, I would like to express my opposition to the Medical Freedom Resolution. With rights come responsibilities. We have a right to autonomy, but we have the responsibility to protect those around us.”
Jack Schultz, a retired private citizen of Effingham County, also spoke in opposition. He said he has been studying the virus for the past 18 months.
“The Medical Freedom Resolution you are considering might make some people feel better but it will accomplish nothing,” Schultz said. “This resolution does send a horrible message to the community that this virus is not serious and we do not care about our fellow citizens.”
Schultz told the board their time would be better spent finding a way to stop the spread of the virus in the short term and get vaccines into arms in the long term.
“To date, we have lost 80 Effingham County residents; that is one out of every 425 people in the county,” he said. “One in 425 people have died already. Think about that.”