A used protective face mask is seen discarded on the ground in Vancouver, B.C. in May 2020. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)

Medical exception letters required for Albertans who don’t wear masks in public areas

EDMONTON — Alberta has moved to close loopholes people might use as a way to avoid wearing masks in public indoor places.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, said Thursday that effective immediately, anyone not wearing a mask where required will need to have a medical exception letter.

Wearing masks remains a “critical public health measure” to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus and there are a “limited number of health issues” for which a mask exception is possible, she said.

Those include sensory processing disorders, developmental delay or cognitive impairment, mental illness disorders, facial trauma or recent oral or jaw surgery, contact dermatitis or allergic reactions to masks.

“In order to verify that someone has a medical condition that makes them unable to wear a mask, Albertans with these conditions will require a medical exception letter from a health professional,” Hinshaw said at a COVID-19 update.

“This letter is important to have especially if requested by enforcement officials for not complying with the legal requirement to wear a mask in indoor public spaces.”

Hinshaw said the letters must come from a nurse practitioner, physician or psychologist.

She said the change comes as a result of talks with Alberta Health Services staff as well as some publicly reported instances where people have refused to wear a mask.

“There have been some incidents reported in the media where individuals who are not following public health rules are perhaps seeking loopholes or areas in the rules where it’s not clear. That’s sometimes challenging our local law enforcement teams,” Hinshaw said.

“(Masks) are not optional. They are mandatory.”

Alberta reported another 1,558 infections Thursday and nine more deaths. There were 722 people in hospital and 177 in intensive care.

Hinshaw said Alberta has now administered more than two million COVID-19 vaccine doses and there are another 328,000 appointments for a shot in the next seven days. If vaccine supply remains constant, the province is likely to start offering second doses in June, she said.

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