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Reports of people presenting cards that claim they are exempt from wearing face masks in public has prompted the DOJ to issue a statement that the cards are fraudulent. Getty Images
  • Some people have reportedly been presenting fake cards in places of business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The cards claim the person possessing it has a medical condition that exempts them from wearing a mask because of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • The ADA contains an exemption regarding the health and safety of others. That means it may not cover people with disabilities if they chose not to wear a mask.
  • The Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued a notice stating that these fake cards were not issued or endorsed by the department.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date.

No, there isn’t a card that automatically exempts you from wearing a face mask during a pandemic.

Images of cards have circulated around social media, allegedly from the “Freedom to Breathe Agency.” The website the cards list, ftbagency.com, doesn’t exist. There is a Facebook group with the same name and logo, but it’s private and, as of Tuesday, had fewer than 600 members.

But images of the fake cards have gained the attention of federal authorities.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a notice about the postings or flyers on the internet regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the use of face masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of which include the DOJ’s seal.

“These postings were not issued by the Department and are not endorsed by the Department,” the notice says.

The point of the cards is to let anyone know that they’re exempt from wearing a mask because of the ADA, but the law that was signed in 1990 contains an exemption regarding the health and safety of others. That means it may not cover people with disabilities if they chose not to wear a mask.

But U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr has also issued a memo on April 27 about laws and regulations being enacted during the pandemic, saying, “Many policies that would be unthinkable in regular times have become commonplace in recent weeks, and we do not want to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public. But the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.”

However, the Constitution doesn’t guarantee people the right to shop in an establishment when they aren’t following the establishment’s rules, such as those that many businesses have outlined in signs that plainly state: “No shirt, no shoes, no service.”

Now, many of those include mask mandates because state and local laws allow private business owners to set the rules for their own establishments.

And some, like bars and restaurants, hold licenses issued by local health authorities, who can fine them or revoke their licenses if they’re not following health orders, which may include mandatory mask orders.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Tuesday pleaded with Americans to wear a mask.

“Please, please, please wear a face covering when you go out in public,” he said. “It’s not an inconvenience. It is not a suppression of your freedom. It actually is a vehicle to achieve our goals.”

Those goals include reopening parts of the economy while also slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But reluctance to mask wearing seems to be following political lines, with left-leaning Americans more inclined to wear masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19, while more right-leaning people — including President Donald Trump — see it as infringing on their personal freedoms.

Jagdish Khubchandani, PhD, an associate professor of health science at Ball State University in Indiana, says the largest study to date, commissioned by the World Health Organization and published in The Lancet, shows the benefits of masks.

“Irrefutable evidence now exists for the utility of masks. Absent a vaccine or medication, the only solution we have is to wear a mask,” Khubchandani told Healthline. “We now know enough about mode of transmission as well, so it’s dual evidence — both for spread and for preventive measures, such as masks.”

Khubchandani says people in the United States can expect to wear face coverings in public for at least another year. “Things are evolving, but I am sure the pandemic will stay for a long time and will have residual effects as well,” he said.

Dr. David Cutler, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, says that if everyone wore a mask, there would be a lot fewer cases of COVID-19.

“While there is also immense value in keeping socially distant, washing your hands, and not touching your face, masks also serve two very important functions,” he said. “Primarily, masks help prevent people with COVID from spreading it to others. To a lesser extent, and greatly dependent on the type of face covering involved, masks can prevent acquisition of the COVID infection.”

One downside, though, is that people who wear masks often touch their face to adjust it, which is a major problem if your hands are contaminated. “Don’t touch your face unless you have washed your hands when wearing a mask or any time,” Cutler said.

Requiring people to wear masks isn’t unprecedented, Cutler said, pointing to people who have infectious diseases like tuberculosis.

“The risk of a person not wearing a mask would seem to be outweighed by the benefit to society of that person wearing a mask,” he said. “If you think you are the exception to this rule, see your primary care physician, who knows you best, and ask them to document that you should be exempt from wearing a mask.”

But without actual, legitimate exemptions from medical professionals, people should just plan on wearing a mask, even if they think their so-called freedoms are at stake.

“Democracy comes with its own drawbacks,” Khubchandani said. “In China, while free press is obliterated due to lack of democracy, the benefit of such a government is that they can mandate masks, lockdown, stay at home, or punishment for not following public health measures. In democracies worldwide, individual rights can often be an obstacle for public health measures.”