Are there medical exceptions for mask wearing? Very few.

Photo by Jens Schleuter, Getty Images

The Washington Post

A so-called “mask loophole” has been circulating on social media. It suggests that people who don’t want to wear masks should tell store workers that they have a medical condition, and if challenged they should cite the privacy section of HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

To be clear, the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t apply to people without disabilities, and HIPAA only applies to the flow of medical information through health-care providers and insurers.

“This social-media post doesn’t relay a ‘mask loophole’ so much as it encourages people to exploit a law designed to provide protections to disabled people,” the fact-checking website Snopes wrote.

There are very few conditions that would prevent someone from being able to wear a mask. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people who should not wear a mask are: 1) children younger than 2 years old; 2) anyone who has trouble breathing; 3) anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.

“Anyone who has trouble breathing” is ambiguous, and this seems to be where people like to point if they don’t want to wear a mask.  In an article in the medical journal JAMA, a legal expert and a medical expert wrote that “few medical conditions are truly incompatible with all forms of mask wearing.”

People with facial deformities that are incompatible with masks is one example the authors raised. People with sensory or processing disorders was another. But less clear were the cases of people with chronic lung illnesses who weren’t experiencing an acute attack. There is some evidence that masks protect the wearer to a certain extent, which would be beneficial to those with underlying lung disease. Having a chronic cough is also a really good reason to wear a mask.

For asthma, it depends on the severity. For people with mild or well-controlled asthma, masks shouldn’t be a problem, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. For those with severe asthma that involves many hospital visits and medications, wearing a mask for long periods might not be best.

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