No face mask or covering grocery store
November 17, 2020

Who Is Exempt From Wearing Face Masks or Coverings?

One of the most controversial parts of life during this Coronavirus pandemic seems to be face masks. Why should you wear one? When do you need to wear one? And is anyone exempt from this policy?

In general, we're "pro mask". As a business and as a family. It's an adjustment, and it does makes working in the office or going around the shops a different experience. But we've found that if you breathe slow and steady, you start to get used to it and forget that you're wearing one.

But what about the people who aren't wearing one at the shops? I've witnessed a few confrontations that no one felt good about. Read on to find out who might not be wearing a mask, and whether this is allowed. 


Why wear a mask?

Face masks are mainly intended to protect other people (instead of yourself) from COVID 19.

They are the first line of defence to catch the little droplets from your coughs, sneezes, laughing or speaking. Without a face covering, these droplets would go into the air (where they could be inhaled by someone else). Or they could settle on a surface (where someone else could touch them).

So the first line of defence is to wear a mask. And then to social distance, and wash your hands regularly after touching different surfaces.

But for some people, wearing a mask can exacerbate their medical condition, or cause significant stress that might outweigh the benefits. 


When do you need to wear a mask? 

Guidance will be different from country to country ... and it is evolving during each wave of the pandemic. Please visit this website for current advice from the UK government.

Fall foul of the rules at your peril. You may be denied entry into a shop, be prevented from using public transport, or face a fine. 


Who is exempt from wearing a mask? 

Current UK guidance is that several categories of people do not need to wear masks. (There are other categories too, but these are the ones that apply to people who may have a hidden condition):

  • If you are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expressions to communicate.
  • People who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability.
  • Where putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress.

It can cause problems though, creating confrontations with members of the public or shop staff. Because many of these conditions are "hidden", it's not immediately obvious why the person isn't wearing a mask. 


Which conditions qualify? 

There is no conclusive list of conditions that qualify. As we know, different people can experience a condition differently. So it's up to the individual person to determine if their condition is severe enough to cause an issue.

It could be a breathing / lung issue, where putting a further limit or barrier on their breathing could cause significant distress. Dementia is recognised as a condition that could be negatively affected by a mask. And having reduced hearing or vision could make communication very difficult. Don't forget that conditions such as anxiety, panic attacks or being on the autism spectrum disorder can also qualify.

In fact, you may not see ANY OUTWARD signs that the person qualifies due to a disability or medical condition.

But just take a minute to imagine the situation that from that person's point of view. Complying with the face mask guidance would be impossible or severely distressing ... but how do they let people know? 


Do you have to carry a letter from your doctor? Or any written evidence 

No. You are not required to carry any medical records or a statement from your doctor with you. And there is no requirement to carry a "mask exempt" card with you (although the government has created official images for a card). It is a matter of personal preference.

So there's no official requirement to carry some sort of notification that you are exempt.

BUT ... it can definitely help managing conversations with members of the public or shop staff. At least while feelings about face masks are running high, and people are understandably scared during the pandemic. It's a mixture of confusion, fear and defensiveness that sometimes means that the conversation gets overheated.

Or perhaps if you are in a large workplace, and interact with different / new colleagues during the day. You see lots of new faces, and although HR may be aware of your medical condition, there is no easy way to communicate it at a glance to fellow employees.

Carrying some sort of way to communicate that you are "mask exempt" can mean the conversation is had at a proper social distance. Or the other person more easily and politely accepts it without raising a discussion. Either way, stress levels drop and we can all go back to doing our essential business. And getting back home again.


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