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Lee County School Board member says "masks don't work" prompting backlash

Posted at 7:20 PM, Aug 18, 2021

LEE COUNTY — A Lee County School Board member is facing criticism for saying masks and vaccines don’t really work.

Melisa Giovannelli made those comments during Tuesday night’s school board meeting. Giovannelli was one of the board members who voted against a mask mandate without and opt-out in schools. But then she took it a step further, actually saying she doesn’t believe masks and vaccines work to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The comments came near the end of a long school board meeting full of debate over mandating masks in schools.

"If your child is sick, if you’re sick, please stay home. That’s really the only way you’re going to fix this. Masks don’t work, they really don’t. We know that the vaccination is not even working," said Giovannelli during the meeting.

Dr. Parisima Taeb said, she was listening to the meeting online and couldn’t believe what she heard.

"I was like beyond shocked, I was so, because how dare she say that stuff. How dare she say masks don’t work," said Dr. Taeb, who runs her own private clinic in Fort Myers.

We also heard from a parent we met at the school district office Monday who opposed the statements.

"I’m not in agreement with that. Masks do help, and they do work. They work," said Phylis Flemming.

Giovannelli said she has received several responses like that to her statements. She wanted to clarify that she’s not an authority on the matter.

“I’m not a medical expert, and I don’t claim to be," said Giovannelli.

But School Board members did hear from a medical expert, Dr. Stephanie Stovall from Lee Healh during a workshop on Monday.

"Would a mask mandate in schools be safer for our students and our staff?” said board member Chris Patricca during that meeting.

"In my medical opinion yes it would be," said Dr. Stovall in response.

Giovannelli said, she took that advice into consideration before making her statements.

“That was one doctor that said that. She didn’t say mandate masks though, I didn’t hear her say that," said Giovannelli.

That’s partly why Giovannelli voted against the mandate Tuesday night, but Dr. Taeb said it doesn’t excuse Giovannelli's statements.

“These people in the community look up to her. They voted for her. They listen to what she has to say, so it’s very wrong," said Dr. Taeb.

Giovannelli said she apologizes if she offended anyone, but she was truly giving what she thought was the best advice.

"Stay home if you’re sick, that’s really the bottom line. Masks, they’re effective, but how much are they really? What’s the science on that?” said Giovannelli.

The current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that everyone should be wearing a mask indoors, even if you’re vaccinated, to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

We also learned seven classrooms in the Lee County School District were closed Wednesday for positive COVID-19 cases.