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Mask mandate has loophole

A WFMY News 2 viewer saw the problem firsthand. The loophole makes the mandate hard to enforce.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Right now, there's a mask mandate in Guilford County. You're supposed to wear one in all public places. However, everywhere you go, you'll see folks not wearing a mask, and there's a loophole that makes it hard to change that.

Viewer Leigh saw the problem firsthand and e-mailed us: "My husband and I were in a store this past weekend. The new mask mandate just went into effect. We watched a lady walk into the store, and the manager of the store stopped her and reminded her of the mask mandate. Her response was, 'I have a mask exemption.' The manager didn't go further. The manager allowed her into the store without another question. Can a manager or anyone ask to look at your exemption? Our conversation, between myself and my husband, was that it's pretty easy to slide by if you don't have to show this, so how would anyone know if you're telling the truth or not? Please verify for us."

We went straight to the attorney for the Guilford County government. He's the person in charge of writing the mandate. Here's what he said: "It is true that if someone says they have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask, you cannot ask for proof, etc. You can ask if someone is not wearing a mask for a medical reason. This is not a particularly common situation. All establishments are expected to do what they can to promote compliance."

The county attorney isn't the only one saying it should be rare for someone to have a medical exemption from the mask mandate. Doctors say there are very few reasons that make it medically dangerous to wear a mask. So, who exactly can't wear a mask?

According to the CDC, it's three kinds of people:

  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 cloth face-covering without assistance.

"From a medical standpoint, it would be extremely rare to have a condition where you truly could not wear a mask," said Dr. Clay Callison, a pulmonary disease doctor and UT Medical Center's Chief Medical Information Officer.

He said the actual inability to wear a mask is rare.

"We have patients who are awaiting lung transplants who are on oxygen, and they're instructed and they wear a mask," said Callison.

He said there are exceptions to everything.

"There are a lot of patients that simply feel like the mask is almost smothering them, and if you have a breathing problem and you have something on your face, you may feel very short of breath," he said.

Callison said every patient is different, even if they have the same condition.

"If you're really claustrophobic and you feel like that mask makes you claustrophobic, I get that. So, I think it's about being as sensible as possible," he said.

Other doctors bring up COPD and other breathing disorders that may make wearing a mask difficult.

Callison is also director of the Adult Cystic Fibrosis clinic at UT. Cystic Fibrosis is a chronic breathing condition. Callison said those patients and many others wear masks even with pre-existing breathing difficulties.