Public health warns of fake cards claiming exemptions from mask order

Cards appear to be used by anti-mask groups trying to flout the rules - but officials say they're useless anyway

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) officials are warning local businesses about fake cards being used by suspected anti-maskers to avoid wearing face coverings.

The cards – complete with the illegal use of a small Canadian flag and a version of the Canadian Red Cross emblem in an attempt to appear official – state the holder is exempt from wearing a face covering due to a medical condition.

Yet it appears from social media posts by anti-mask groups that many users of the fake cards do not have a medical condition and are using them simply to flout bylaws or public health orders requiring face coverings in businesses.

The cards, however, are an exercise in futility in the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph region, as public health officials have repeatedly stated businesses do not require proof of the following mask exemptions under the WDGPH order:

  • those under the age of two;
  • those whose ability to breathe is inhibited or have a medical condition;
  • children under the age of five, either chronologically or developmentally, who refuse to wear one and cannot be persuaded to do so by their caregiver; and
  • those impacted by “the obligation to provide reasonable accommodation under the Ontario Human Rights Code.”

“The order specifically states that commercial establishments should not ask for evidence to support an exemption, so in that sense, the cards don’t make a difference,” said WDGPH spokesperson Danny Williamson in an email statement on July 16.

Public health has not yet had any businesses report that customers are using the cards, which officials first discovered on July 15, though it’s possible they were circulated prior to that date.

But what is troubling for many residents is the idea that some people would purposely lie about medical conditions just to avoid wearing a mask, thus putting other customers at risk.

“It is unfortunate that individuals are circulating false documents,” said Williamson.

He added, “For individuals who can’t wear a mask due to legitimate reasons, this can be a stressful time.

“We encourage everyone to practice empathy in adhering to the order, and encourage commercial establishments to look for other ways to safely accommodate those who can’t wear a mask.”

In general, Williamson said, feedback on the mask order has been positive, and “the adoption rate in our region has been excellent and we thank people for doing their part.”

However, he did note there has been “some vocal opposition, mainly on social media.”

Anti-mask groups and their supporters on social media – the Advertiser is not naming them in order to prevent the spread of misinformation – continually post conspiracy theories and debunked medical advice.

There is overwhelming evidence from reliable medical experts that proves masks, if worn properly, help stop the spread of diseases such as COVID-19.

In the GTA, members of anti-mask groups have recently shown up in hospital emergency rooms with their fake cards, some of which are being sold online, and filming the reaction of health care professionals.

Williamson said he is not aware of any such cases at hospitals in the WDGPH region.