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Are you medically exempt from wearing a mask? 

Probably not

click to enlarge Unmasked protestors at St. Vincents De Paul in Petaluma.

Peter Byrne

Unmasked protestors at St. Vincents De Paul in Petaluma.

On Sunday, about thirty people gathered in a small mid-town park in Petaluma to stage a political protest march. They were protesting against a Black Lives Matter protest against the firing of Black teachers by a local high school. Many of the protest protestors were waving American flags and “Back the Blue” signs and chatting face to face.

Most of them were not wearing face masks.

I took a few photos. Why? Because I am trying to understand why it is now a badge of honor in some social circles to not wear a mask in public places. The day before the protest of the protest, I was buying a tool at a ranching supply store on Lakeville Street when a woman and two children flowed through the doors, only to be verbally stopped in place by the sales clerk.

She informed the customers that they had to don masks to enter the store. The woman exclaimed that her family is “medically exempt” and do not need to wear masks. The clerk sighed as the woman moved briskly towards us sans mask. I jumped into the conversation.

“Excuse me, Ma-am, but there is no such thing as a medical exemption that allows for you to not wear a face-covering in a store.”

She insisted that she and her children are “medically exempt” and that privacy laws do not allow her to explain why and it is none of my business.

I raised the stakes, saying “Shall we video this conversation? maybe it can go viral.”

She donned a mask and went shopping.

The clerk told me, “My son has really bad asthma and he has to wear a mask!” We shared a comradely moment of Covid-19 fatigue and parted.

Covid-19 is a truly nasty disease with life-long lasting debilitating effects if it does not kill you outright, painfully, and in isolation. The invisibly spreading malady does not respect age, gender, class, caste, or nationality. It has brought the world to its knees and the end is not in sight. The good news is that the spread of the dread disease can be prevented by wearing a cloth mask indoors, and by physical distancing outdoors, and by not breathing on other people, or sucking in air laced with spikey-deadly nano devils.

But to be successful, masking and distancing have to be widely practiced. Sadly, the health of 300 million Americans is at risk because hordes of mask-resisting true believers in lies promoted by ultra-reactionary media and insane politicians consider Covid-19 to be a hoax, a liberal scheme to weaken Trump’s authoritarianism, a Jewish or Antifa or Black Lives Matter plot. Wearing a mask is in their hormonally convoluted minds an assault on individual “freedom” – an illegal abrogation of their supposed right to freely infect other people.

When challenged to wear masks appropriately, many resort to the false claim that they are medically exempt. There is even a bogus “US Department of Justice” certificate of exemption you can download and flash as “proof” of your special legal status as a virus-spreader.

In reality, there is no federal law containing a medical exemption for masks, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises physicians to tell persons suffering from facial deformities or severe respiratory and heart problems that they do not have to wear masks. Although, they should then shelter in place, so that they do not infect others.

In short, there is no such thing as a law or order providing for a medical exemption that allows for the infection of others, nor should there be. Let’s look at the Covid-19 orders.

Under an order issued by the California Department of Public Health, people older than two years of age must wear face masks indoors when they are around those with whom they do not reside. They must wear them outdoors when closer than six feet to other persons.

There is an exemption for, “Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a face covering. This includes persons with a medical condition for whom wearing a face covering could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance.”

Those persons are asked to shelter in place or to wear a plastic face shield if they must be in contact with others. They are not allowed to go shopping without a face mask or shield.

Sonoma County’s health order explains why mask wearing is compulsory, “Persons have been shown to be infectious up to 48 hours before onset of symptoms, and as many as 50% of infections seem to occur from asymptomatic persons. All persons who contract COVID-19, regardless of their level of symptoms (none, mild, or severe), may place other vulnerable members of the public at significant risk.”

The Sonoma County order warns, “The violation of any provision of this Order constitutes a threat and menace to public health, constitutes a public nuisance, and is punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both.” Those unmasked folks walking around with All Lives Matter signs might want to consider the implications of their defiance of the laws and the social good.
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