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Who does the 'medical exemption' in Colorado's mask mandate cover?

Medical experts say it's only a small number of people
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Posted at 10:22 PM, Jul 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-21 12:21:31-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — Medical experts say a medical exemption to Colorado’s statewide mask mandate applies to only a small number of people, and those people should avoid public places if they aren’t wearing a mask.

The state's website details the mask mandate and specifies people who "cannot medically tolerate a face covering" do not have to wear a mask, but it doesn't explain how to know if you fall into that category.

"Wearing anything is better than wearing nothing,” Dr. Luke Webb said. That’s what he tells his patients when they ask if a mask could be bad for their health. Webb is an allergist/immunologist specializing in patients with asthma and allergies.

Since the mask mandate took effect, a common reason people have given for why they can’t wear a mask is that they have asthma.

Read more: How the Colorado mask mandate applies to you

"I would say around 8 to 10% of the population has asthma,” Webb said. Even though asthma is common among people, Webb said there’s only a select number of asthma patients who could be negatively affected by wearing a mask.

“I would say less than 2% [of asthma patients],” Webb said. “And again that’s going to be a very unusual circumstance.”

Another common reason some people say they can’t wear a mask is because of allergies.

“Unless someone is having a contact reaction to the mask itself, I don’t thank there are any airborne allergens that would you would have worsened symptoms by wearing a mask,” Webb said. He said if anything, wearing a mask would help reduce allergy symptoms.

While most asthma and allergy patients should be fine wearing a mask, Webb said there are legitimate reasons others may not be able to wear one.

"Some people who may have some muscular compromise or may have severe COPD, or that are heavily oxygen-dependent, Webb said. “Or in particular people—really young kids, or people who just don't have the physical capability to remove the mask from their face."

For the small number of people who fall into the “no mask category,” the law still allows business owners to ask them to leave if they aren’t wearing a mask.

"The [Americans with Disabilities Act] doesn't say you're exempted, it says that you need to discuss a reasonable accommodation,” said Patricia Yeager. Yeager is a disability rights activist and serves as CEO of the Independence Center.

"You can't come into the store, because you present a direct threat to other people,” she said.

On top of that, Webb said most patients who would be exempt from the mask mandate suffer from medical conditions that compromise their immune systems. He said it would be in their best interest to stay home to avoid exposing themselves to the virus in public, especially if they aren’t wearing a mask.

“We would tell these patients, if in any way, you can stay home and have things delivered to you or have your family members come and get those things,” Webb said. “Try and do that to the greatest extent that you can.”

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