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Mask-wearing is seen by many as a simple, harmless, and effective strategy in reducing coronavirus transmission. Informed Consent Matters supports the rights of those who wish to wear masks to do so, and also supports those who are exempt.

As with all healthcare decisions, in making the right choice for you, it's important to be clear on what the science, and the law, actually says. It's also important to realise that the media - and even some doctors and other healthcare professionals - don't always take the time to read all the latest studies and legislation, so aren't always giving you the most accurate or up-to-date advice.

At the time of writing (July 2022), there is no mask mandate in the UK and the decision to wear one remains a personal choice. So, should you wear one, now or in the future, if positive cases begin to rise?

Looking at the latest evidence, a comprehensive peer-reviewed study, published in April 2022, found that countries with high levels of mask compliance did not perform better than those with low mask usage.

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“Data from 35 European countries on morbidity, mortality, and mask usage during a six-month period were analysed and crossed,” stated the study, which encompassed a total of 602 million people.

“The findings presented... suggest that countries with high levels of mask compliance did not perform better than those with low mask usage in the six-month period that encompassed the second European wave of COVID-19."

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The findings of this study reflect those of many previous studies, which found that, outside of strictly regulated healthcare environments, mask-wearing does not reduce viral transmission or produce better health outcomes.

It's important to realise that mask-wearing in surgical settings takes place both under the highest clinical standards (which members of the general public are not trained in and cannot replicate), and that surgeons wear masks to prevent bacteria from their mouths and noses getting into the open wounds of the patients they are operating on, rather than to prevent them catching or spreading airborne viruses. The fact that masks have small gaps where they fit next to the face, plus microscopic holes in the fabric, means they are able to allow airborne viral particles through, as these are very small. So, masks do not prevent the transmission of respiratory viruses like Covid-19.

Masks do, however, quickly become contaminated with bacteria and other pathogens, which means that prolonged mask-wearing can carry with it a variety of "self-contamination" risks, The risk increases the longer the mask is worn, and a recent study concluded: "protocols on duration of mask use should specify a maximum time of continuous use."

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Mask Exemptions

Mask exemptions are self-declaratory under the law. That means you do not need a doctor's note or other medical certification to say you are exempt, and you are not required to disclose the reason for your exemption to anybody (including a doctor or police officer). Anybody who asks you to give a reason for your exemption, or refuses you service on the basis of your exemption, is breaking the law.

The law gives many reasons why a person may be medically and legally exempt from wearing a mask, which include a wide variety of physical and mental health conditions. You are also exempt if the idea of wearing a mask causes you 'severe distress' (as it does to many survivors of sexual abuse, whose faces were covered as part of their abuse).

It is because reasons for exemption can be so personal and so traumatic that the law rightly protects people from ever having to disclose the reason for their exemption to another.

There are other risks associated with mask-wearing, especially if the mask is worn whilst activity is being undertaken, including walking. Mask-wearing whilst exercising can result in dyspnoea, a potentially serious condition involving difficult or laboured breathing, as well as increasing the risk of both cardiac overload and renal overload, and aggravating other serious underlying conditions. 

Please remember that mask-wearing - like all medical decisions - is a choice, and that the law protects your right to make an informed one, including when 'mandates' are in place. No environment (including hospitals) can force you to wear a mask if your situation qualifies you as exempt, as this exemption is protected by law (please see below). To refuse someone service on the basis of their mask exemption is a form of disabilities discrimination, and is therefore illegal. 

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To sum, you are exempt from wearing a mask if you say you are, and your right to self-declare your exemption without enduring any discrimination (including a refusal of service) as a result is protected by The Equality Act 2010

If you do choose to wear a mask, the evidence suggests that it's important to avoid prolonged use, to wash it frequently, and to avoid any form of exercise whilst wearing the mask, in order to reduce the risk of health complications occurring. 

You may also wish to consider what material the mask is made from, as many have been found to be contaminated with dangerous chemicals, which can be hazardous if breathed in. Masks produced organically may be a better option.  

Whatever you decide, please make sure you explore a wide variety of information and evidence first, because, as always, the right choice is an informed choice. 

If you've not been warned, you're not informed!

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