A local diner and ice cream shop is getting the cold shoulder from dozens of Chippewa Valley residents after posting a sign urging people to ignore COVID-19 advice from public health officials.
Roadside Ice Cream & Diner has prompted a stir on social media by displaying a sign inside the establishment at 1160 Menomonie St. encouraging people not to wear masks, practice social distancing or take other steps widely encouraged by local, state and national officials to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.
The sign, headlined “Roadside Chatter,” indicates the advice is composed of excerpts from Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, a well-known anti-vaccination activist and author of the book “Saying No To Vaccines,” and Dr. Russell Blaylock, a retired neurosurgeon who alleges that wearing face masks is harmful to healthy individuals.
It also advises people to “understand that an asymptomatic carrier is a normal, healthy person” and not to “buy into the fear that one might ‘catch something’ from a normal, healthy person.”
Posting of the sign, in the midst of local, state and national spikes in COVID-19 cases, has spawned hundreds of comments, both pro and con, on the restaurant’s Facebook page and led a number of area residents to share photos of the sign on social media along with pledges to stop supporting Roadside. The former Dairy Queen outlet separated from American Dairy Queen Corp. in 2018 and changed its name to Roadside.
In response to a Leader-Telegram inquiry, the Robertson family that owns Roadside issued a statement Tuesday indicating that the intent of the post that drew public interest was “to simply share the information” from the two medical professionals. The statement said “Roadside Chatter” doesn’t censor information.
Regarding social media concern about the sign recommending that people stop wearing masks, the statement said: “According to Dr. Russell Blaylock, ‘a number of studies linked prolonged mask use to headaches and lowered blood oxygen levels which can weaken immune systems.’”
The statement responded to Facebook comments about the sign asking people to “refuse mandatory vaccinations” by saying: “According to Dr. Sherry Tenpenny she claims, ‘vaccines do not prevent infections but do cause disease.’ “
“Again, Roadside only offered the post for public review,” the statement continued. “Additionally, Roadside and its predecessor have maintained decades of good relations with the Eau Claire County Health Department.”
Eau Claire City-County Health Department Director Lieske Giese said Tuesday that the department has received complaints recently about Roadside and is investigating.
“We will be working with them and providing education if they need it,” Giese said, noting that practicing social distancing by maintaining a space of at least six feet between people and wearing face coverings are among the best tools society has to control the pandemic.
“Good information is critical for all of us, both businesses and individuals,” she said. “My job is to make sure that there is good, solid, science-based information and data available for the community and that they’re using that to make decisions.”
Nearly 125,000 Americans have died and 2.6 million people in the United States have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic started in December, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
Hundreds of people posted comments on Roadside’s Facebook page critical of the owners’ decision to display advice that runs contrary to the overwhelming consensus of public health officials, with some vowing to take their business elsewhere.
The commenters suggested the business endangered its employees and customers as well as the broader community by promoting such views.
Several Roadside supporters, however, argued that the business owners should be free to share any opinions they want and said the problem is mask advocates trying to force others to wear them. Some of those posts complained about “liberal sheep” in the community who believe anything the government tells them.
Giese said Health Department officials have worked with business groups to establish best practices to keep customers and employees safe.
“This a community that overall has businesses that get the significance of this disease, manage it well and are motivated to do the right thing,” Giese said.
The department strongly recommends that restaurant employees wear masks, but it is not required, she said.