Allan Stevo, Face masks are being turned to as a largely superstitious solution to the concerns about coronavirus, as opposed to a solution driven by data. The data also indicates that their use comes with drawbacks.
That being the case, local orders requiring a face mask are likely to make clear that there are exemptions to the order.
San Francisco Department of Public Health has played a leading role in Northern California, nationally, and globally in shaping corona response policy. That official order along with directives from City Hall deserve further attention, as it makes notable exceptions to who must wear the mask.
It Is Dangerous For Children Under 2 To Wear A Face Mask
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is a poorly explained phenomena that frightens parents. Corona prevention or not, any artificial obstruction of a child’s breathing goes against years of warning on this topic and flies in the face of the fact that some children do appear to stop breathing.
The San Francisco face mask directives state “Children under 2 years old must not wear a face covering. They may suffocate.”
Children Under 12 Must Be Supervised, And The Order Will Not Be Enforced For Them
The same caution around little ones up to the age of 12 is expressed in the San Francisco directives.
“Children 3 to 12 years old are not required to wear a face covering. If they do, they should be supervised by an adult. Supervision may look different based on the age and maturity of the child. For some children, having a discussion may be enough. For younger children, parents and caretakers should be present during use by the child. Parents and caregivers should use their judgement.”
The mayor of San Francisco has advised that this order will not be enforced for children up to and including the age of 12.
If You Have Documentation From A Doctor Then You Don’t Have To Wear One
Understandably, enforcement of the order is made easier if those with an exemption can show medical documentation. The San Francisco face mask order States: “If you have documentation showing a medical professional has told you not to wear a face covering, you do not have to wear one.”
But that poses a problem because many doctors offices have been shuttered. It is very difficult to get in to visit with a doctor. Therefore, the order also includes those who do not have a note from a doctor.
Even With No Documentation, If You Have Trouble Breathing, You Don’t Have To Wear A Face Mask
Since not everyone can go to a doctor you are exempt from having a doctor’s note if a face mask gives you trouble breathing. According to the San Francisco order:
“Anyone who has trouble breathing, or is not able to take off a face covering without help, should not wear one.”
Physical Disabilities Exempt You From Wearing A Face Mask
According to the City of San Francisco “If you have a physical disability that prevents you from wearing a face covering, you do not have to wear one.”
The ADA Protects You From Having To Disclose Your Disabilities
Please forgive the murky waters I’m about to enter as I attempt to identity leverage you may have in defending your boundaries in this matter.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, drafted under Reagan, passed through a Democratic Congress, and signed by Bush in 1990 has turned into a massive governmental overreach and assault on property rights. There are far better ways to have addressed the needs of disabled individuals.
That does not change the fact that it is the law of the land, and whether or not it is law, remains at the core of many corporate training manuals: a properly trained manager doesn’t want to give the slightest indication that he is being nosy about your health or disabilities.
Many people who suffer from disabilities find it difficult to talk about their disabilities to every person from whom they request accommodation. When you cite a disability, people may look at you in disbelief and request that you prove your disability.
In many situations, as the ADA has been interpreted, you are not required to disclose your medical condition to anyone. The Department of Justice ADA information and reporting line is 1-800-514-0301. Specialists are available at that number to apply ADA concerns to specific situations.
This poorly constructed law can be kept in mind for a point of reference related to how corporations train staff.
The Law Is On Your Side, Now What Do You Do?
There are a few ways to go about not wearing a face mask. One way is with a lot of bluster.
Showing up in person, it’s a lot harder to get your point across.
Option 1: Go At It With Bluster
Tensions are high. There are places that rather low-level employees have been told they are the “front line” in a war. This front line talk is very destabilizing to many personalities, as it leads to an artificial inflation of their role in society.
An additional moral component has been added to this. Anyone who won’t cooperate is evil. Anyone monitoring compliance has gotten huge pushback from the public in massive shows of bluster. You will probably lose if you go head-to-head with a grocery store employee expecting him to read and interpret a legal matter while the face masked public and face masked staff are watching.
Option 2: Bring This Up In A Way That Cooler Minds Can Prevail
I’d recommend the phone, and I’d recommend calm tones, if your goal is to be able to shop while avoiding the breathing difficulties that wearing a mask might create.
You could say something like the following to a grocery store manager if it applied to you:
“The San Francisco face mask order says that all people must wear a face mask in your business. That poses a problem for me, because I would not be able to wear a face mask, because I have a condition making it difficult to breathe while wearing a mask. Luckily, the order has an exemption for people just like me who cannot wear a face mask because of a medical condition. So I’m calling to ask if I could come by today or tomorrow sometime and to have you guys follow the city order by having me not have to wear a face mask because of my condition?”
Pause for a bit. Give the manager time to think. Wait for him to let you know where he is with his thoughts. It’s possible he has yet to hear that this is actually written into the order. Many people who are unable to wear face masks have probably already been turned away at the door of his business.
“…I can tell you about my condition if you’d like, if that is something you would need, but it would be my preference not to share that…”
“…I tried to get into my doctor for a note, to address my flare up and make this easier, but it was impossible. They aren’t even answering their phones…”
If he says no, don’t raise your voice. Don’t threaten in any way. He’s under a lot of pressure in his role. We all are. Don’t speak about reporting anyone. Don’t talk about lawsuits or government. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Take it easy. Pace yourself.
Recognize that it’s probably over his pay grade. Recognize that you don’t want to get anyone in trouble and that he could get in trouble for letting you in. Just ask for a number to a supervisor. Perhaps even suggest that you call the supervisor together if that may help to disarm the situation.
If the supervisor says no, do the same with their supervisor. Take down names and numbers and document the conversation. Go all the way to the CEO if needed. And if the answer remains no, ask the CEO if you may speak with him and their general counsel.
Or you could just go to the competition who may be more reasonable with your request for accommodation and is more interested in your business.
The Difficulty Of Breathing In Face Masks Are Well Established
I know it’s frustrating to have to jump through these hoops just to go grocery shopping without wearing a mask that makes it difficult to breathe, dangerously difficult for some.
In 2018, Yolo County, California posted cautionary advice about face masks before the wearing of face masks became so politicized in spring 2020:
“N95 respirators can make it more difficult for the wearer to breathe due to carbon dioxide build up, which reduces the intake of oxygen, increased breathing rates and heart rates…N95 use may lead to increased heart rate, respiratory rate, work of breathing, carbon dioxide buildup in micro-ambient air and heat stress — potentially posing risk to sensitive populations.”
A 2010 study of ten healthcare workers in Respiratory Care, a monthly peer-reviewed medical journal, placed study participants on a treadmill for an hour showing that even with an exhalation vent, the carbon dioxide levels in an N-95 mask become far higher than would be allowed in a safe workplace and the oxygen levels far lower.
On April 23, 2020, a driver in Lincoln Park, New Jersey lost consciousness, careened off the road, and crashed into a pole. Police found no signs of drug or alcohol use and believe that the accident was caused by driving in an N-95 face mask for several hours.
Face masks aren’t a cure-all and come with some meaningful downsides, especially for at-risk populations.
In fact, it’s worth noting that face masks don’t filter out small particles. A 2016 study of dental uses of face masks points this out. Face masks can be useful for preventing direct, immediate contamination of a surface from a person who is coughing and sneezing, but the fine-particle aerosolized portion of matter is still transmitted.
With so little benefit, it’s actually pretty crazy to wear a face mask. And it’s definitely crazy to elevate it to a moral standard as some people are doing. The puritanical American roots have turned on those who dare step outside with a full, unexposed face, just as they turned on the “witches” at Salem, in a period of mass hysteria that will be forever remembered as a dark point in the American experiment.
There’s great symbolism to saying you will or will not wear the face mask. Some go so far as to call them fear masks.
But there is also another practical factor involved: it may be a burden for you and you may be legitimately exempt from wearing it while society figures out if an executive should have the authority to make these sweeping orders. You are, after all, the only person whose actions you are able to control.
If a face mask presents a health burden to you, look at the written policy of your face mask order, identify health or other exemptions, and establish clear boundaries around your wearing of that face mask.
You will be better off for having defended your own boundaries and your own well-being. And though this additional benefit may not be in your own self-interest, you will have helped others who have a similar hesitation around masks defend their health and safety, by merely defending your own boundaries on this matter.
Not only can courage be contagious. It can be benevolent as well.