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To mask or not to mask

Many people are asking us for guidance and information about whether they are exempt from wearing a face mask if they have RA or JIA. There is no one-size-fits –all answer, but this information could help you with that decision.


Key points

  • There is absolutely no scientific evidence that your oxygen intake is reduced by wearing a mask
  • A number of misleading videos have been shared on websites including YouTube – don’t get caught out!
  • For personal advice based on your condition, consult your health care professional
  • Wearing a face covering in enclosed spaces can protect others.
  • In England face coverings are compulsory on public transport and in hospitals from 15th June and shops from 24th July; in Wales on public transport from 27th July; in Scotland on public transport from 22nd June, in hospitals and care homes from 29th June and in shops from 10th July; and in Northern Ireland on public transport from 10th July and for visitors to hospitals and care homes from 6th

Many people are asking us for guidance and information about whether they are exempt from wearing a face mask if they have RA or JIA. There is no one-size-fits –all answer, just as there was variance in who was to shield or not. No two people living with inflammatory arthritis are the same, their disease will vary, their medications will vary, their environment and personal circumstances will vary and they may have other conditions in addition to their arthritis. Usually, having RA or another form of inflammatory arthritis should not mean you should not wear a mask, or do not need to wear one. We are aware of some misleading videos being circulated online, and would caution that you should seek your advice from your own healthcare professionals to avoid getting caught out.

We cannot give an individual response to the questions you are asking NRAS i.e. if you are or are not exempt from wearing a mask in public. What we can do is share with you government guidance and you then need to make an informed decision for yourself following the advice for your nation, the advice of your own practitioners as well as following your own social conscience.

If ever there was a time for demonstrating true community spirit and selflessness, it is now.

Let us be clear: nobody LIKES wearing a mask. They are hot and uncomfortable, they make your glasses steam up, you can smile at people but they don’t see your smile etc. Have we ever heard NHS staff complaining and refusing to wear masks though? No. Masks are much more effective indoors than outdoors, because coronavirus is understood to transmit much less easily outdoors. The wearing of face masks correctly, not around your chin or under your nose, offers you, the wearer about 20% protection but offers others 80% protection. If ever there was a time for demonstrating true community spirit and selflessness, it is now. It is, in my personal view, our civic and moral duty to do all we can to protect each other and stem the infection rate of this virus.

I fully appreciate that there are a minority of people who really can’t wear a mask and for those people unfortunately it is recommended that you need to curtail where you go and with whom, to keep yourself and others safe. If you struggle to put on the mask yourself then is there someone who can put it on for you? However, if there is no medical or psychological reason for you not to wear a mask then you have to examine your own conscience and ask why you are deciding not to wear a mask. Is a little personal discomfort really worth the health, and potentially, the life of another human being? You may be carrying and spreading the virus without realising it.

There is absolutely no scientific evidence that your oxygen intake is reduced by wearing a mask.

There is absolutely no scientific evidence that your oxygen intake is reduced by wearing a mask which is one of the reasons people are citing for not wearing them. If you doubt this listen to those who know…the experts. There are many videos online by doctors proving by demonstrating while being hooked up to a monitor, that their oxygen levels remain unchanged while wearing masks and sometimes multiply masks to prove the point. This is one I particularly like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5npQivAmcE.

The other reason people are suggesting for not wearing a mask is the difficulty of putting them on and again here’s a great video that will challenge that thinking.https://twitter.com/i/status/1282138882570690567

I have come across a link for those who are exempt from wearing a mask that you may find useful. This company has developed a card that you can wear with a lanyard to declare you have a hidden disability that if you believe you fall into that category of being exempt you can wear in public that may reduce the risk of you being challenged.https://hiddendisabilitiesstore.com/hidden-disabilities-face-covering.html

In summary:

If you can wear a mask, then do!

If you cannot, then do your very best to stay safe by following enhanced social distancing and avoid indoor public places as much as you can. You may also wish to carry a ‘hidden disability’

If you just won’t wear a mask i.e. refuse for no medical or psychological reason, please spare a thought for those that are high risk from this virus. Coronavirus is still very much out there- silent and invisible.

For more information on exemptions and the wearing of face masks. Taken from the Government guidance

Exemptions to wearing a face covering where they are mandated

In settings where face coverings are mandated in England, there are some circumstances, for health, age or equality reasons, whereby people are not expected to wear face coverings in these settings. Please be mindful and respectful of such circumstances noting that some people are less able to wear face coverings.

It is not compulsory for shop or supermarket staff to wear face coverings, although employers should consider recommending their use where appropriate and where other mitigations are not in place. For example, there will be times when screens or visors are in use, or when a staff member is not in close proximity to people they do not normally meet, and so wearing a covering for staff will not be necessary. Employers should continue to follow COVID-19 secure guidelines to reduce the proximity and duration of contact between employees.

You do not need to wear a face covering if you have a legitimate reason not to. This includes:

  • young children under the age of 11
  • not being able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
  • if putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
  • if you are travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others
  • to avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and you do not have a face covering with you
  • to eat or drink, but only if you need to
  • to take medication
  • if a police officer or other official requests you remove your face covering

There are also scenarios when you are permitted to remove a face covering when asked:

  • If asked to do so by shop staff for the purpose of age identification
  • If speaking with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound. Some may ask you, either verbally or in writing, to remove a covering to help with communication

For exemptions in different parts of the UK please refer to the specific guidance for Northern IrelandScotland and Wales.

Please note that there is no distinct information for Northern Ireland and Wales that we could find regarding exemptions from wearing face masks however Scotland’s guidance is very similar to that of England.

SCOTLAND – exemption guidance:

You may also have a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering if, for example:

  • you have a health condition or you are disabled and a face covering would be inappropriate because it would cause difficulty, pain or severe distress or anxiety or because you cannot apply a covering and wear it in the proper manner safely and consistently.Individual discretion should be applied in considering the use of face coverings for other children including, for example, children with breathing difficulties and disabled children who would struggle to wear a face covering
  • you need to eat or drink
  • you are taking medication
  • you are communicating with someone else who relies on lip reading

a relevant person, such as a police officer, asks you to remove your face covering