Can a medical condition exempt you from wearing a face mask? Doctors weigh in

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Wearing a face mask at businesses and restaurants is now mandatory in numerous Texas counties, but some people say they can’t because of health concerns. 

“I have a medical condition that can be triggered by prolonged wearing of mask,” said a viewer to KXAN investigators explaining that he’s worried about oxygen depletion. 

Another viewer wrote in, “I have allergy-induced asthma. Wearing a mask makes this much worse.”

Doctors explain that there are various conditions that can prevent people from wearing masks. They say if you can’t wear a mask then consider a face shield.

“There are a few people who are not capable of wearing a mask, but the overwhelming majority of people can wear a mask,” explained Dr. Charles Lerner who is part of the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 task force. “Severe respiratory failure would be one of them. People who may have had some facial injuries.”

Dr. Lerner, who specializes in infectious disease, said people with health concerns that prevent them from wearing masks usually can’t even leave the home.

“Most of those who can’t wear a mask, if they’re in public and they get infected, they are in the highest risk group for death,” said Dr. Lerner. “The data are solid when people are masked the infection rate is decreased. “

Under the Mayor’s Stay Home, Mask and Otherwise Stay Safe Orders, businesses will not face a penalty if the person without a mask is, “is at a greater mental or physical health, safety or security risk, such as anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cover without assistance.”

The order explained that the exception is if wearing a face covering poses a greater risk due to a medical condition. 

“Businesses can consult the Americans with Disabilities Act for further direction as to whether they can prohibit the entrance of a person/employee based on their refusal to wear a mask,” said a spokesperson with the City of Austin. 

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