Mask It Or Casket

Believe You’re Exempt From A Mask? Think Again.

Dan Pennington
8 min read
Mask It or Casket
I mean, they do a lot more than that to be fair. (Clarke Condé)
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Maskholes. It’s the term that was coined and defined through as, “assholes who don’t wear masks publicly during the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.” Sadly, this nearly exclusively American problem of mask adoption rates has been one of the larger contributing factors to why the outbreak on the homefront has been so widespread and drawn out. We lead lives where we begin to notice patterns. Life is very much about the patterns that surround us. What patterns can we discern from data to figure out what went wrong here to create said maskholes.

For reference let’s look to, which polled 4,708 Americans from a wide variety of backgrounds, political views, geographical locations and other factors to find out how they felt about masks. Let’s pretend we don’t already know how this is going to play out. When polled, 86 percent of Democrats believed masks should be worn always or most of the time when out in public. Conversely, Republicans only polled at 52 percent, with 48 percent saying they felt they should be worn only some of the time to never. Aha!

But let’s be real with each other for a minute. That poll tells us nothing we didn’t already know. Somewhere along the way, basic science and good practices for keeping other Americans safe became conflated into a political issue. This is a bigger issue with American identity politics, where you’re either A or B, with us or against us, the good guy or the bad guy, Republican or Democrat (or third-party that is essentially one of those two parties, in a slightly altered direction). Where did Republicans get the ridiculous idea that masks wouldn’t protect them and others? Some could put the blame on Republican leadership, which has flaunted wearing a mask more or less since the very beginning of this pandemic. Which reminds me, rest in peace to Herman Cain.

But even that doesn’t actually reach the core of the issue. Assuming that the current federal administration isn’t just a cult of personality, and these people are truly free thinkers with enough intelligence to understand that the greater medical and scientific community truly know what they’re talking about, how come the issue isn’t permeating? They’re not wearing masks, it should have an easier time doing so now more than ever. Is “getting sick to own the libs” really the true purpose of this? Not quite.

What this comes down to is the “American Dream,” a phrase that has been tossed around, changed, remixed, restructured and recaptured by both parties so many times that the actual meaning has become so lost. Does it mean the right to live in a safe country? Well, clearly not right now. Does it mean the right to equal opportunities to succeed? Not for most of the country, but we’re sure trying! Does it mean the freedom to just do whatever you want? Oh yeah, that’s the one people believe now. The American Dream is unfettered freedom. Libertarians, please contain your cries of ecstasy. You want to fire guns into the air at 3am? Go for it, they won’t stop you (if you aren’t a BIPOC). Want to throw a rally telling people science is all a lie and lizard people control our government? Go for it, you could get endorsed by the President! Want to contribute to 157,000 mostly preventable deaths in the country you claim to love, because a piece of cloth on your face would be too much of a restriction to your lifestyle of showing teeth to strangers? Guess what? Apparently you can, and will!

Do I sound bitter? Good, I am. When every major medical group in the world makes a recommendation, but a woman who believes demons can get you pregnant in your sleep says otherwise, yet you side with that woman, it makes me and a majority of Americans feel like we’re living in a mid ’90s comic book. But let’s forget about all of this for a moment and tackle the other big issue here.

Let’s assume you do believe masks work, but you just don’t like wearing them. You have realized that on a certain level, you can’t fight the law by saying “I choose not to” and need some other avenue to get away with exposing your breath to the masses. Is all hope lost for you? Fear not, intrepid maskhole, there’s a loophole that exists yet! You might remember when we talked last week about
COVID-19 testing and the way that public versus private testing meant some people could go back to work after testing positive if they felt like it because they legally could use HIPAA and the ADA to avoid sharing their private health information. Aha! Private health information! If you have an ADA-covered disability, you can say a mask is harmful to your health and you’re exempt from wearing one. They can’t ask what it is, and you’re scot free. Literally foolproof!

Well, except for one thing. When looking at the most common ADA-covered disabilities, you’ll notice something. Looking at the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) which is a leading source of free, expert and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues, you can see their comprehensive list of ADA-covered disabilities and accommodations that need to be made for them. There is a subsection for respiratory impairments, which would constitute asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which legally fit the bill and have been the two most common references to ADA-covered freedom of masklessness in public. So, through the ADA, you can ask for the reasonable accommodation to not wear a mask because it obstructs your breathing.

There is a small caveat, though. A double-edged sword, if you will. See, the reasonable accommodations made by a business for you and your safety work both ways. You could say that you can’t walk up stairs because of special legs you had made after an accident, and the only thing you can safely walk up is a slide of ice. Hypothetically. But what about everyone else? The slide has become a danger to them. Legally, the business can say that your accommodations cause more harm and deny your request. From the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), “The ADA also says if an accommodation could cause harm to other people, then a business does not need to provide the accommodation. If a person with asthma is coughing and not wearing a mask, they might be exposing other people to COVID-19. So in this case, the employer could require the person with asthma to stay home or wear a face mask/covering.” Even more so, most doctors agree that it is more dangerous to be maskless with a respiratory problem because of how COVID-19 affects your system and say those with breathing issues should be the highest priority for wearing a mask. Damn. So close to getting away with it.

Before I’m accused of attacking those with disabilities, I’d like to clearly state that I am a lifelong sufferer of asthma, who is on a number of treatment plans to manage my symptoms, and while I find my mask uncomfortable, especially after eating an Italian meal chock full of garlic, I have yet to ever feel like I am suffocating or unable to breathe in any of the masks I have worn in public. You could ask your doctor for a medical exemption notice, but you’d first have to find one willing to do so, and even then a business can still say you are putting others at risk by not wearing it and legally deny you entry.

So is there a way to get around wearing a mask in public? The short answer is no. The long answer is the 1258 words that preceded the previous statement, which is still no. I want to believe that everyone in the world has compassion and common sense, but it’s becoming very apparent these past months that unfortunately that isn’t true. I question the bloodbath that would ensue if a bunch of people in white coats got on Facebook Live and said that eating the hearts of children is proven to cause immortality. Ten years ago the idea would seem ludicrous that anyone but the most fringe of people would believe it. Unfortunately, I can’t stop seeing the patterns, and currently, the number one pattern I keep seeing is new COVID cases going up in the US.
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