Is a card claiming to exempt the holder from wearing a face mask in public the real deal, sanctioned by the government? No, that's not true: the anti-mask meme circulating on social media is full of mistakes. It claims to have the backing of the Department of Justice and Americans With Disabilities Act, but neither the DOJ nor the ADA has anything to do with the card.
The claim appeared in a post (archived here) posted on Facebook on May 8, 2020 under the heading "Stop Mandatory Lockdown, Testing, Tracking and Vaccination!" It opened:
If anyone is denied entry into a store for not wearing a mask, hand them a copy of this and enter the store anyway.
This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:
The rest of the card reads:
I am exempt from the Governor's regulation mandating face mask usage in public. Wearing a facemask poses a health risk to me.
Under the ADA and HIPPA, I am not required to disclose my medical conditions to you.
Department of Justice ADA Violation
Information line: 800-514-0300
Organizations and businesses can be fined up to $75,000 for the first ADA violation and $150,000 for any subsequent violation.
TO ALL GOVERNMENT AGENTS:
PLEASE PROVIDE LAWFUL AND NECESSARY CONSIDERATION TO AID THE BEARER IN THE UNIMPEDED EXERCISE OF THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS.
Thank you for your understanding and assistance.
The DOJ neither issued nor endorses such a card. Moreover, the claims listed on the card are false, such as stores being fined $75,000 for challenging a shopper's claim that he or she is unable to wear a mask.
First, the claim about $75,000 fines against stores is bogus. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) agency does not fine a business over a potential customer pretending to have a disability. Americans without disabilities are not protected by the federal Act.
Second, the phone number on the notice, 800-514-0300, leads to a business selling discount medic alert buttons and not to the ADA assistance hotline, as claimed.
Third, the correct acronym for the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is HIPAA, not HIPPA as stated in the post. The Act pertains to the privacy of medical records between physicians and insurance providers and does not pertain to customers at a grocery store or other commercial establishment.
This bogus exemption card, which people would conceivably print off on their home printers, allegedly was issued by the U.S. Department of Justice with the notion that it could be shown to store employees who would then "exempt" the customer from mask-wearing rules. This is not true.
The ADA agency confirms that the placards are bogus and reminds the public that businesses have the right to impose safety regulations on all customers as long as there is a known health risk. Moreover, Department of Justice employees themselves must wear masks in common areas of buildings. Justice Department workers are permitted to remove their face covering only in a private office, cubicle or workspace where they can keep at least six feet of distance from others.
Controversy over masks has led to public displays of hostility since state and municipal ordinances were passed in early April.
In a Trader Joe's in Palos Verdes, California, an unmasked woman argued with store employees and other customers for 15 minutes while recording herself. "This is America," she yelled. "You people are sheep." She posted the video on YouTube. The majority of comments on her video, however, sided with the grocery store.
In Philadelphia, police were called by a bus driver on April 11 to remove a passenger from a bus for failing to obey the new mask rule. The incident turned violent.
After a second incident on a bus, Philadelphia's ABC 13 News reports, city authorities rescinded the mask rule for buses, as drivers could not enforce the rule amid public resistance.
A May 12, 2020, CNN report showed two men in a Los Angeles Target store fighting with employees and breaking an employee's arm after they refused to comply with an April 10 city mask ordinance. The men were arrested and charged with felony battery by Los Angeles police.
People who believe this meme potentially could create more such situations by arguing with store employees.
Masks are currently mandatory in portions of 38 states, with regulations requiring lower-face coverings while in public areas. That means covering the nose and mouth with a homemade or purchased mask, a scarf, a bandana or other item that would block a sneeze and cough.
Wearing a mask is an unselfish act, experts say, as wearing a mask protects others, not the wearer.
In an interview with business magazine Forbes.com, Dr. Eli Perencevich, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Iowa's College of Medicine, said most people buying masks are not getting one that stops the virus from reaching their mouth or nose, anyway. "The coronavirus is transmitted through droplets, not through the air. That means you cannot randomly breathe it in. The standard surgical mask you see people wearing will not keep air out. Those masks are designed to keep droplets in and are intended to keep the wearer from making others sick."