By DAMIAN DOVARGANES – Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Thousands of people, including truckers and firefighters from across the country, gathered in front of Los Angeles City Hall on Sunday to protest vaccination regulations aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.
The crowd gathered in Grand Park to listen to speakers and performers, while “People’s Convoy” trucks were parked in nearby streets. Members of the convoy blocked traffic during a protest in Washington, DC earlier this year.
The peaceful crowd gathered to listen to speakers and singers, similar to a rally held at the same location last year and others staged across the country.
California battled a deadly winter coronavirus surge linked to the Omicron variant, but this year began easing masking and vaccination requirements as case numbers and hospitalization rates plummeted, leading public health officials largely to widespread vaccinations and others reduced security measures.
However, a few weeks ago, rates started rising again, prompting fears that the new, more contagious BA.2 variant was spreading.
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Paul Schreit, 31, a New York City firefighter and founder of the group Bravest for Choice, flew out with some teachers, transit companies and others to support local public workers, he said.
Schreit said he has been on unpaid leave for five months for failing to comply with New York’s vaccination requirement for public employees. He believes he had COVID-19 but has recovered.
“The people who have held out for so long believe it’s not about a shot. It’s about the freedom to make the choice for your own physical autonomy,” said Schreit. “We are 100% not against vaccination. We support the individual. We believe that threatening the individual is a threat to all human freedoms.”
Los Angeles County and the city require their workers, including firefighters, police officers, and sheriff’s deputies, to be fully vaccinated or have medical or religious exemptions. Relatively few faced disciplinary action.
As of last month, about two dozen employees, including a dozen firefighters and several police officers, had been fired for violating vaccination regulations. The city has successfully fought anti-mandate lawsuits filed on behalf of firefighters and police officers.
The organizers of the protest are opposing several bills related to COVID-19 that have been proposed in the legislature, although the broadest one has been shelved. Rep. Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, shelved her measure, which would have required vaccination of all employees, public or private, or independent contractors. Wicks cited the easing of pandemic conditions and opposition from public safety unions.
Dovarganes is an AP photographer. Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this story.
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