Face masks are part of all our lives now – but for some people it presents bigger challenges than for others.
To tackle the spread of Covid-19 it is now law to wear a face mask in certain settings to protect others, but those with a medical condition approved by a doctor are exempt from having to wear one.
But not everyone has a condition that is visible, and it’s not always immediately clear what someone’s exemption reason might be.
Sadly that has led to mask shaming and people are facing angry confrontations when they may have perfectly legitimate reasons for not having a covering.
One resident who is in this position is Gary J Robinson, from Hemel Hempstead, who feels like he always has to be on his guard.
After dropping his daughter off to school one day, he popped into his local Tesco in Grove Hill, Hemel Hempstead, where a random shopper was trailing him.
“I feel that I have to be on guard relentlessly,” he said.
“I refuse to walk around looking at the floor in case someone wants to give me a hard time.”
Gary continued: “He [the shopper] stood in front of me and blocked my path before giving me a lecture on how I was a danger to him and everyone else.”
After reminding the man that some people are exempt, he demanded to see Gary’s exemption card.
However, Gary replied saying that the only time he is required to explain himself is to a doctor or a police officer.
“I assured him I was not looking for an argument but he continued with the name calling and insults” he added.
Mr Robinson suffers from visual migraines as a result of hypoxia – a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues.
This means he gets temporary blindness and very frightening visual distortion.
He added: “I’ve had to adopt a mindset of being prepared to take sh*t from people.”
“I get uncomfortable looks from people”
Sajjad Haider, 38, from Letchworth, suffers with sleep apnoea – where breathing stops and starts while sleeping.
“I get uncomfortable looks from people,” he explained.
“I’m more concerned about the glares so end up wearing the mask to feel relaxed, but I still have to take it off several times because of the panic I get.”
Sadly, mask shaming appears to have been on the increase as the growth of the deadly virus continues.
Covering the nose and mouth may make someone feel claustrophobic and trapped, thus causing them be anxious in public, and that’s something others should keep in mind.
Trish Newton, 75, from Stevenage, is someone who knows what that feels like.
She suffers with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), the name of an obstructive lung disease that causes breathing difficulties.
“I’ll do what I can to save other people when I have tried to wear one,” she explained.
“But I found that I was almost in a panic state.
“Obviously, when I cough, people will look at me and I just smile and that usually makes them turn their head away.”
List of people exempt from wearing a face covering in England:
Children under the age of 11 (this age limit is different across the UK)
Those who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
Those who find wearing a face covering would cause them severe distress
Those who are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expressions to communicate
Where it is needed to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, including if wearing a face covering would negatively impact their ability to exercise or take part in strenuous activity
They are a police officer or another emergency worker, given that this may interfere with their ability to serve the public
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Disabilities and health conditions aren’t always visible and it’s something we should always remember if we happen to see someone without a mask.
Just because a person may look normal that doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering from a potentially harmful condition – just like these three Hertfordshire residents.
In these tough times, mask shaming can be something that deeply affects a lot of people – let’s not jump to conclusions.