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‘Mask exemption cards’ are the craziest thing I’ve seen during the coronavirus pandemic

Published Jun 29th, 2020 9:54AM EDT
Mask exemption cards
Image: Darko Vojinovic/AP/Shutterstock

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  • People have been exhibiting all sorts of dramatic reactions — some of which has ended up going viral — in response to coronavirus face mask regulations, but a special mention has to be given to new so-called “mask exemption cards.”
  • These have been proliferating online as well as offline, and they purport to exempt the bearer from local coronavirus-related face mask mandates.
  • Needless to say, these aren’t a real thing, and federal officials have gone to the trouble in recent days of stressing that.

I thought this insane viral video of a bunch of anti-maskers in Florida ranting at local government officials over face mask mandates tied to the coronavirus pandemic was pretty dramatic and didn’t expect to see anything top it anytime soon. But then a shopper over the weekend at a Trader Joe’s in Los Angeles’ North Hollywood neighborhood was caught on camera screaming at store employees, who she thundered were “Democratic pigs,” after having been told that she needed a face mask to shop in the store. Eventually, she threw her basket on the ground and stormed off.

But this next bit of coronavirus-related face mask news, I would argue, takes things to an even new low of insanity. So-called “mask exemption cards” have started showing up, both online and IRL, that, ordinarily, we might not even bother pointing out — except for the fact that somebody took the time to make these look really official (they’re not, of course), and federal officials have also felt compelled to weigh in and say that these cards are not, you know, a real thing.

You can check out what the cards look like below. They’re about the size of a business card, and while they include a sort of real-looking US government seal stamped on the right side of the card, one giveaway that they’re fake is found in the four letters in the bottom left corner: FTBA. It stands for … Freedom To Breathe Agency.

“Wearing a face mask (“poses,” except that word is misspelled on the card) a mental and/or physical risk to me,” the card reads. “Under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), I am not required to disclose my condition to you.”

In light of these cards proliferating and even being sold online, Matthew G.T. Martin — the US Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina — released the following statement about the cards, per The New York Times: “Do not be fooled by the chicanery and misappropriation of the (US Dept. of Justice) eagle. These cards do not carry the force of law. The ‘Freedom to Breathe Agency,’ or ‘FTBA,’ is not a government agency.”

Likewise, the Dept. of Justice has issued a warning about the cards, simply noting the existence of “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 Department of Justice’s seal.

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

As a reminder, the CDC has stressed that face masks are one of the essential tools that everyone needs in order to keep themselves safe from the coronavirus. Specifically, the agency recommends that people were cloth face masks or coverings in public when they’re around people outside of their household, especially when social distancing is difficult to practice. That’s also why, with coronavirus cases approaching 2.6 million in the US (according to Johns Hopkins University), Vice President Mike Pence said during an appearance in Dallas in recent days that “We encourage everyone to wear a mask in the affected areas. Where you can’t maintain social distancing, wearing a mask is just a good idea, especially young people.”

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.