Are Coronavirus Mask Exemption Cards Real? Experts Weigh In
Mask exemption cards are popping up across the internet—but doubts remain as to their validity.
Wearing a face mask isn't always pleasant—especially as temperatures rise—but it's still a necessary precaution in the war against coronavirus. However, many people have found a possible loophole: A printable coronavirus mask exemption card bearing the Department of Justice (DOJ) seal that claims to allow the bearer to go mask-free in public. The only problem? They're fake.
While the cards claim that businesses refusing entry to unmasked patrons who present their coronavirus exemption cards could be charged with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and hit with initial fines of $75,000 as well as $150,000 fines for subsequent offenses, the cards are not actually issued by a government agency. Despite the DOJ seal on the cards, the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division denies their involvement. "These postings were not issued by the Department and are not endorsed by the Department," according to the DOJ website.
So, who's behind the hoax? The cards were created by the FTBA—or the Freedom to Breathe Agency—the website and Facebook page for which have since been deleted. If a business owner is presented with such a card, "The business should tell the individual that the ADA does not recognize any cards or certifications of this type for accommodation… and they cannot accept the card as proof of the requested need," explains Bruna Pedrini, an attorney with Fennemore Craig, who specializes in accessibility, anti-discrimination, and education law.
However, that doesn't mean businesses are necessarily off the hook just because the card presented to them is fake. "The business must engage in dialogue with the individual to determine whether there is a less restrictive alternative, such as a long face shield with a closed loop, that the individual could use instead of a mask," explains Pedrini, who notes that, in some cases, social distancing may be a possible alternative if the customer is adamant about not wearing a mask.
That doesn't mean businesses have to accommodate hordes of unmasked patrons, either. "If there is no reasonable accommodation that can be agreed upon, then the business may deny entry," says Pedrini, noting that the coronavirus pandemic is considered a "direct threat" to public health and safety, thus allowing businesses to deny specialized accommodations, according to the ADA.
For individuals with conditions that do make mask-wearing a direct threat to their wellbeing, there are forms of documentation that may make explaining their predicament easier.
"If someone with a genuine disability wants to show that they truly cannot wear a mask, then a doctor's note to that effect can help," explains attorney Rajeh A. Sadeh. However, even in the case of genuine medical necessity, "That does not override a business owner's prerogative to limit entry when it is to prevent a specific, articulable risk of harm," like coronavirus transmission, Sadeh explains. And if you want to know where your mask is non-negotiable, check out The 10 States With the Strictest Face Mask Laws.