"We're doing all we can to support them": Towradgi resident Joanne Kind - who is exempt from the new mask rules - with her support worker Alison Bard. Picture: Robert Peet.

"We're doing all we can to support them": Towradgi resident Joanne Kind - who is exempt from the new mask rules - with her support worker Alison Bard. Picture: Robert Peet.

'We don't know everyone's circumstances': When you are exempt from wearing a mask

'We don't know everyone's circumstances': When you are exempt from wearing a mask

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Before you chide someone for not wearing a mask in public, it's important to remember there are legitimate exemptions. "It's good that people are being vigilant - but it's important to remember that we don't know everyone's circumstances," Wollongong MP Paul Scully said.

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As Wollongong gets used to life where face masks are mandatory in many public indoor settings, it's important to remember some people are lawfully exempt from the new rules.

For instance, the health order allows anyone to remove it for "the proper provision of goods or services" like getting a facial at a beauty salon or a beard trim at a barber.

There are also exemptions for people with a physical or mental illness or condition, or disability, that makes wearing a mask unsuitable.

Towradgi resident Joanne Kind is scared to wear a mask - and is scared when her disability support workers turn up with one on.

Ms Kind has a mild intellectual disability and is one of the people who is lawfully exempt from wearing masks.

"I don't like it, I don't like things over my face, it makes me feel claustrophobic," she said.

"I don't like it when my workers wear them, it makes me feel like I've got something wrong with me. And I don't. I don't have COVID."

The Disability Trust is working with clients like Ms Kind to raise awareness about the need for mask-wearing, and make them feel more comfortable.

"There are exemptions for people with a physical or mental disability but our staff are still working closely with all our participants to help them better understand the need to wear masks to keep themselves, and those around them safe," chief operating officer Edward Birt said.

"We're doing all we can to support them - and are getting them involved in developing educational resources including songs and posters to get the message across."

"While we all need to be personally vigilant about our mask wearing, leave the enforcement up to police." - Paul Scully.

"While we all need to be personally vigilant about our mask wearing, leave the enforcement up to police." - Paul Scully.

Wollongong MP, and acting Labor health spokesman, Paul Scully, said he had been contacted by residents unable to wear masks who were concerned about the response they would get out in public. He warned it was important for people not to make assumptions - or rude comments - if they see people at indoor public places who are not wearing a mask.

"There are some quite legitimate reasons some people aren't able to wear masks, and they might not be obvious when you look at someone," he said.

"People should be able to go about their day - it's good that people are being vigilant - but it's important to remember that we don't know everyone's circumstances."

"So while we all need to be personally vigilant about our mask wearing, leave the enforcement up to police."

Read also: Early intervention key in kids mental health

The Blue Knot Foundation, which deals with complex trauma, has explained that masks can trigger previous experiences for survivors.

Foundation president Cathy Kezelman told AAP masks may reignite feelings of not being able to breathe for trauma survivors, including for people who had been through the recent bushfires. Others may have been assaulted by a person wearing a mask, or masks may bring up the feeling of being trapped and helpless, she said.

Likewise, Asthma Australia said there were a number of issues that could arise for people with asthma, with 55% of respondents to a recent survey saying they had experienced breathing difficulties wearing a face covering, while a third said it made their asthma flare up.

Around one in eight respondents said they experienced negative reactions from the public when not wearing a face mask.

NSW Health has acknowledged that some community members have illnesses, conditions and/or disabilities that makes wearing a mask difficult or unsuitable, and said regulatory officers would be "focused on compliance when it comes to mask-wearing, rather than enforcement."

"If someone has a medical condition which prevents them wearing a mask, having documentary evidence available, such as a letter from a registered health practitioner or a disability care provider, will assist assuring shops and retail premises that the person is complying with the Order," a spokeswoman said.

"The Public Health Order does not give shop owners the right to refuse entry (enforcement is by way of a fine), but entry to premises will ultimately be a matter for the retailer."

Exemptions

You are not required to wear a mask if you:

  • Have a physical or mental health illness or condition, or disability, that makes wearing a mask unsuitable (for example, a skin condition, an intellectual disability, autism or trauma).

You may remove your mask when you are:

  • Eating or drinking
  • Communicating with another person who is deaf or hard of hearing
  • Asked to remove your mask for identity purposes.
  • You may also remove your mask for the proper provision of goods or services, for example, if you are having a facial or beard trim.
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