Groups opposed to mandated vaccinations protest on the grounds of the Ohio Statehouse, Tuesday, August 24, 2021. Similar protests have been held in Michigan and across the country with anti-vaccine activists also speaking at local government meetings. | Graham Stokes/Freelance Photographer
A state agency has determined that a Livingston County nurse did not violate public health codes by her public statements against masks and COVID-19 vaccines.
Holly Austin of Howell is a nurse educator with Schoolcraft College who was investigated by the Michigan Department of Licensing & Regulatory Affairs (LARA) after statements she made during government meetings in Livingston County.
During a Sept. 13, 2021, meeting of the Livingston County Board of Commissioners, Austin, speaking about COVID, falsely stated that masks “do not work” and that “none of the children should be quarantined because this is not a disease of children. This is a disease of elderly and people that have pre-existing comorbidities … but for children they should not get vaccinated.”
She made similar claims at a Dec. 6 meeting of the Brighton Area Schools Board of Education during a discussion over whether a mask mandate should be implemented in the district in response to the wave of the omicron variant that was then surging COVID case numbers.
Austin’s statements contradict guidance from medical experts, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Nurses Association, the American Hospital Association, and the American Medical Association, all of which have said that masks, as well as vaccines, are both safe and effective in trying to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Michigan’s vaccination rate is 59.4%, lagging well behind the national average of 65.4%.
Austin’s claims were subsequently criticized publicly by another Howell woman, Kasey Helton, who posted a series of tweets in December that referred to Austin as “a pathetic purveyor of health misinformation.” Helton said she was “floored that Schoolcraft would employ such a shady character to teach future nurses that masks are ineffective,” and tagged the college. Schoolcraft later tweeted that Austin’s opinions did not reflect the institution’s views.
Helton, meanwhile, indicated she planned to file a complaint with LARA against Austin, saying her statements were a violation of nursing standards required under her license.
However, in a letter to Helton dated March 3, LARA stated that after a “careful review of the complaint” submitted against Austin, they “determined that there is not a reasonable basis to believe that a violation of the applicable provisions of the Public Health Code and associated rules has occurred.”
Helton declined comment on the decision when contacted by the Michigan Advance.
Austin later filed a report with the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office against Helton, claiming her actions constituted harassment. A referral was subsequently made to the county’s prosecutor requesting cyberstalking charges be filed against Helton with Sheriff Mike Murphy asking “at the end of the day when does the free speech line get crossed and become criminal?”
In early January, Prosecutor David Reader indicated that per a request for additional information, the case remained under investigation by the sheriff’s office. However, to date, no charges have been filed, a situation predicted by Helton’s attorney Craig Tank in mid-December.
“I suspect the warrant will die a slow death, ” said Tank. “They’ll decline the prosecution because of the problems that it would create for them.” Tank said if they were to file charges the prosecutor’s office would “in essence be … writing a blank check to my client as it relates to a civil rights violation.”
Austin also sought a personal protection order against Helton, but that was declined by a Livingston County judge in early January, who ruled that such an order was not warranted under the circumstances and would more properly be pursued as a civil action under libel or defamation.
At that hearing, Austin stated she was in danger of losing her nursing license due to “hundreds of complaints” that had been made about her to state licensing authorities because of Helton’s posts. Austin claimed that if she didn’t get the PPO, Helton would “destroy” her.
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