The Department of Justice has confirmed that one of the latest trends in the movement to reject face-covering requirements is not backed by the government, despite claims to the contrary.
The trend in question, started by anti-mask group the Freedom to Breathe Agency, is a card that claims the holder is "exempt" from wearing a mask, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, the official government website of the ADA recently announced that these cards are, in fact, "fraudulent."
"The Department of Justice has been made aware of postings or flyers on the internet regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act and the use of face masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of which include the Department of Justice’s seal," the statement read.
"These postings were not issued by the Department and are not endorsed by the Department," it continued. "The Department urges the public not to rely on the information contained in these postings and to visit ADA.gov for ADA information issued by the Department."
Lenka Koloma, the founder of the Freedom to Breathe Agency, told TODAY that the cards never stated that they were issued by the ADA or the DOJ, and that these names were only mentioned to "tell people the references under which they are protected."
"The FTBA card was issued so people are aware of their rights," she said.
Printable versions of these cards have been shared widely on Twitter and Facebook.
One version reads: "I am exempt from any ordinance requiring face mask usage in public. Wearing a face mask poses a mental and/or physical risk to me. Under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), I am not required to disclose my condition to you."
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It also encourages individuals to call the Department of Justice to report any violations of the ADA and alleges that organizations and businesses in violation of the ADA could face "steep penalties," including fees of up to $150,000. It adds that the Freedom to Breathe Agency will take "further action" against any businesses denying admittance to people with the card who won't wear masks.
In early April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending that individuals wear cloth face coverings in public due to the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, many states, cities, and stores have issued requirements that people must wear masks in public or on their premises.
For example, Costco instituted such a policy in May. And last week, the California Department of Public Health issued guidance requiring face coverings in "high-risk situations." On Tuesday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced a statewide mandate requiring facial coverings in public.
Research shows that face masks are effective at reducing spread of the coronavirus. A recent study found the risk of transmitting the coronavirus is 17.4% without a mask, social distancing or any other preventive measures. Add a mask or respirator, and that number drops to 3.1%.
This story was updated to include quotes from Lenka Koloma, the founder of the Freedom to Breathe Agency.