Pa. lawmaker defends shopping without a mask, urges public to question state officials

Coronavirus in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Shopping without a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t recommended by health experts, but that’s exactly what a midstate lawmaker said he did recently in a Facebook post.

State Representative Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon) calls the resulting backlash from that post an organized effort by leftist groups targeting republicans.

“I went shopping, I didn’t wear a mask, I found toilet paper,” Diamond said in a Zoom interview Wednesday.

But he found more than just bath tissue, he also found controversy, after posting this: “Shopped sans mask, bought TP, got $1.99 gas, and Batdorf take-out…so much winning.”

The post garnered hundreds of comments, many of them critical of Diamond not wearing a mask.

“If they took me as the bait, that’s fine because I can take it, I can dish it out right back to them,” he said.

People left comments like ‘You are a selfish dork’ — ‘I cannot believe you’re an elected official in my state!’ — and ‘You are a dangerous idiot.’

He believes a majority of the commenters weren’t even his constituents, writing back to many “How we know each other again?”

Diamond calls the backlash, “astroturfing.”

“Astroturfing is an intended mockery of what looks like grassroots movement,” he said. “They were sent in here by some organization or by some operative of the left that just wants to undercut any kind of republican legislator. I did expect some kind of a response and quite frankly if you look at the likes versus the comments, there’s way many more likes and loves on that post.”

Diamond said he wants people to question state officials, and their motives, and feels their credibility is fading as the pandemic pushes on.

“They started with the regions, they were gonna do certain regions they walked that back and then this mask issue, they walked it back quietly because their website now states they’re only encouraged, they’re not mandated,” he said. “If you make a public pronouncement that something’s mandatory and people are going around saying ‘you gotta wear a mask,’ and then you walk it back and you’re only encouraging it, I think you ought to be just as public as possible. In my opinion, their credibility is fading very, very fast.”

State Health Secretary Rachel Levine disputed Diamond’s comment back to one Facebook user that “wearing a mask does nothing unless you are in close quarters.”

“I think that that is incorrect,” Levine said. “We are recommending that individuals wear a mask if they’re going outside and they’re going to encounter people. As I’ve said many times, my mask protects you, your mask protects me.”

“I was endangering no one’s health by doing that because I stayed six feet away from everyone, I wasn’t coughing on anybody,” Diamond iterated, saying he feels masks offer a false sense of security. “I think it’s giving people a false sense of security and might encourage them to undertake more risky behavior because they’ll go ‘oh well I’m covered by a mask.'”

Levine has said before that her advice is based on the best available science at any given time, and it can — and often does — change.

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