Weekly Poll – Face Coverings

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 29 November 2021, we asked a question about face coverings.

Results

Question 1a. Do you currently wear a face covering in public spaces in Scotland?

  • YES – 70% (108 respondents)
  • NO – 30% (46 respondents)

Question 1b. If you answered no, are you exempt for one of the reasons outlined in the exemption criteria?

  • YES – 100% (46 respondents)

Question 2. Would you wear a face covering if it was not mandated by the Scottish Government?

  • YES – 70% (108 respondents)
  • NO – 30% (46 respondents)

Comments

We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Necessary Safety Precaution

Face coverings are required by law in most indoor and public places in Scotland. A number of respondents were supportive of wearing face coverings, with 70% stating they currently wear one because they believed it is a necessary precaution to stay safe and help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“In light of everything we have learned about the virus and how it spreads (airborne), I think it is our duty to follow scientific advice to keep ourselves safe and slow any community spread. Masks are a vital part of this in terms of self-protection.”

“Wearing a face covering is a simple thing to do to protect others.”

“For most people, wearing a face mask is at most a slight inconvenience and yet can make a big difference.”

“I want to keep myself and family safe.”

“I will always wear a mask until the pandemic is over no matter how long it takes. On buses and trains, I feel unsafe when I have to be too near someone who is not wearing a mask.”

Highest Clinical Risk

Disabled people who are at highest clinical risk, some of whom were previously in the shielding category, highlighted the importance of mask-wearing to help protect themselves and others.

“Apart from the fact that my wife is immunocompromised due to cancer treatment, I would still wear a mask to protect myself as well as others. Why take the chance that I could catch or pass on the virus to others who may fall seriously ill due to my carelessness. Although some folks think that wearing a mask means that you don’t cover the nose (what’s so great about their nose that it has to be on show).”

“I was advised to shield at the start of the pandemic, however since I have been able to get out and about, I have always used a face mask from the minute I have went out, even simply going along the street in my wheelchair.”

“I’ve not gone out since starting to shield in 2020, except for a medical appointment when it was mandatory. I just worry that some people won’t wear face masks, which puts me at greater risk.”

“I am a full-time carer and I need to protect myself when out and for when I come home for my daughter’s safety. I wish the public would stop to think of those who cannot go out or of the workers who have to go and care for people.”

“Those that are disabled and immunocompromised should have access to medical grade ffp2 and ffp3 masks for the best protection. Overall, I feel like in the disabled community there’s more of a communal spirit than in the general population. We’re aware of how quickly one can become disabled due to something like illness and therefore tend to strive to take great precautions.”

Communication

One respondent highlighted the challenges created by face coverings for deaf people. Face coverings can muffle the sound of voices and prevent people from lip reading. In the Scottish Government guidance, it states that there are situations when face coverings can be temporarily removed for people who rely on lip reading and facial expressions to communicate.

“One of my deaf friends lip reads. She had to have cancer treatment recently. The consultant didn’t wear a see-through face covering at her first appointment. She didn’t make out any of what he said. At the second appointment he wore a face covering with a see-through panel which let my friend read his lips. She got on much better at that appointment. Often in healthcare, you have to tell each new person you speak to the same thing – the message doesn’t get passed on from one person to another. The consultant probably hadn’t had time to read my friend’s case notes before the start of the appointment.”

On 1 December 2021, it was announced that new transparent masks, which feature a clear front panel have been approved for use in health and social care settings in Scotland. It is vital that transparent masks are made available in a range of different settings to support communication for all.

Exemptions

By law, you must wear a face covering in most public spaces, unless you are exempt from doing so because of specific circumstances. For example, you do not have to wear a face covering if:

  • you are under 12 years old
  • wearing one makes you extremely anxious or distressed
  • you have got a physical or mental illness or disability which means you can’t wear one

When face coverings became mandatory in public settings during summer 2020, disabled people in the exemption criteria experienced bullying, harassment and hate crime. This was specifically where members of the public had approached and accused disabled people of non-compliance, despite having genuine medical exemptions. This caused disabled people anxiety and impacted their mental and physical health. In some cases, disabled people were deterred from going out and accessing essential food and supplies because of the fear of being confronted for not wearing a face covering.

In response, at Disability Equality Scotland we have administered the distribution of the Scottish Government Face Covering Exemption Card. The aim of the project is to give disabled people confidence and something tangible to show if challenged, as well as raising awareness of exemptions. More information about the face covering exemption card can be found at: www.exempt.scot

Respondents shared their experiences of being challenged by retail staff and members of the public for not wearing a face covering, despite being medically exempt. Of the 46 respondents who stated that they do not wear a face covering, 100% are exempt for one of the reasons outlined in the exemption criteria.

“I dislike being challenged as to why I am not wearing a face covering. I have an exemption card but still feel like a second-class citizen. It’s all wrong.”

“I try to wear a face mask when in crowded spaces but sometimes I find I need to remove it because of my disability and as a result I have had abuse from staff and others for not wearing it.”

“I wear one as I’m too afraid of the backlash as I have had negative experiences of people not willing to look at my exemption card and this reaction caused me an autistic meltdown.”

“I can hardly breathe to walk with a face covering. I have a card that I carry with me, but I am fearful to go out too much in case I get challenged.”

“I wear a face shield instead of a mask, as I have tried wearing one, but just can’t, no matter how much I try. But even though I am exempt, I find I still get asked to wear one, and sometimes a bit of abuse.”

Some respondents stated that despite being exempt from wearing a face covering, they still opt to wear one for as much and as often as they can.

“I find it a challenge to wear a face mask, especially while moving or talking. But I still do as I feel it’s so important to stop the spread of this virus, and I have a responsibility in that, as well as my own vulnerability if I do get the virus. If mask wearing was just standard practice, indoors, on public transport or in close proximity outdoors it would make it far less hostile for me to get out and about.”

“I am exempt from wearing a face covering. I do find it difficult wearing one, but I continue to wear a face covering as I am extremely worried and anxious about catching COVID-19 as I was on the shielding list.”

“I am exempt on anxiety grounds, but I will always try to wear my mask when I can. I often start off wearing a mask but if I get panicky, I need to take it off.”

“I have an exemption card due to chronic respiratory disease. However, I wear a mask as long as possible, occasionally coming up for air by uncovering my nose. This works for me, but others may not be able to do this therefore, I do not stand in judgment of those who cannot wear a mask.”

There was a perception from a portion of respondents that face covering exemption cards are being misused by people who do not meet the exemption criteria.

“I believe that there seems to be a large amount of the general public who flaunt these exemptions. These cards are far too easy to be used by selfish idiots. I think at the very least they should have an identifying code or mark that could prevent them from being used by anyone other than the person they were issued to. I am well aware that this would involve cost, but is saving lives less cost effective?”

“I won’t wear a face mask because I have a lung condition. However, I know many people who have exemption cards who do NOT have any disability or legitimate reason to wear one. The system for application is wide open for spurious claimants.”

“Unfortunately, I have found a lot of people saying they are exempt, as they have admitted it’s easier for them, rather than just say they will not or don’t want to wear a mask. And, as much as we would like to wear one, and we are more aware than some other people, about hidden disabilities, that may stop us wearing one, there are no legal exempt cards, that genuine people can access to help stop the abuse of, not just disabled people, but the abuse of people using these cards and other excuses they use, which unfortunately we sometimes get the brunt of.”

Enforcement

Respondents reflected on the attitudes and behaviours of individuals who do not support the measures that are in place that aim to reduce the spread of COVID-19. As a result, some disabled people have continued to voluntarily shield, as they do not want to risk catching COVID-19 from someone who is not medically exempt and chooses not to wear a face covering.

“We have cultivated a selfish and dangerous mentality in which the lives of disabled people should be sacrificed for the greater happiness. Due to this selfishness and people refusing to wear masks and get vaccinated some disabled people have never been able to come out of lockdown.”

“For most people, wearing a face mask is at most a slight inconvenience and yet can make a big difference. The same people complaining about restrictions and saying we have to “learn to live” with COVID don’t seem to realise that things like face masks *is* a part of living with it! I find it quite baffling that some people seem to want zero restrictions but also harass people who are still wearing masks and getting vaccines!”

“People who do not wear face masks and are not exempt are selfish, in that, they are not only putting themselves at risk but putting others who they come into contact with at risk.”

“I am at increased clinical risk and there have been a lot of struggles throughout the pandemic and the fact that many people think it’s over and done with and I should just get back to normal things. Seeing a lot of people wearing masks indoors gives me some sort of reassurance but I worry how many are only doing so because it is mandated. People being cavalier about the groups this virus is hitting hardest is very different when your part of that group. People making it clear that people like me are expendable has been a major struggle for me, sometimes more so than the fact that I have basically only seen family and medical staff (and a few members of the public in the hospital etc.) for two years.”

One respondent believed that there should be greater enforcement of the law to ensure that people who are not in the exemption category are compliant with the requirement to wear a face covering.

“It’s very worrying that so many people do not wear face coverings in shops, etc and the staff/the public aren’t allowed to challenge them. It makes a mockery of this law, and its seriousness is being ignored by all responsible adults who witness its occurrence. A greater police presence and reaction to the offence would change behaviours, reduce the spread and save lives; surely every bit as important as a speeding driver, petty thieves, etc?”

Personal Choice

The majority of respondents (70%) stated that they would continue to wear a face covering in public spaces if it was not mandated by the Scottish Government. There was recognition of the need for continued mitigation to ensure the public remain safe, particularly with the threat of new variants.

“I’m actually exempt and went through a distressing process to ensure I could get used to wearing a mask. If it was not law to wear one, I would continue to wear a mask in order to protect myself and others.”

“For me wearing a face covering is easy. I want to play my part to help keep others safe from COVID. I am annoyed by some others’ non-compliance with face coverings so yes, even if it was not mandatory, I would still wear one. A recent peer reviewed study in the British Medical Journal found face masks could help to stop transmission of COVID by up to 53%. That is one really good reason to keep doing it as this virus will always be with us now.”

“With or without any advice from the Scottish or Westminster government on this I am likely to continue to use face covering in all public areas until Spring or Summer of next year.”

One respondent who is exempt stated hypothetically that they would not wear a face covering if it was no longer mandated.

“I am exempt from wearing a face covering but I wouldn’t wear one if I wasn’t. It is my opinion that if people wish to protect themselves, they can wear a face covering and take any other such measures them deem suitable for themselves. Telling people what to wear is not something that should be mandated by law in my opinion. People need to take responsibility for themselves.”

There is uncertainty around how much of the general public would continue to wear face coverings if they were not mandated. One individual reflected on a trip to England when face coverings were no longer mandated and found that people did not take extra safety precautions in public spaces.

“Face coverings in crowded places are so important for maximising the efficacy of vaccines, and also for folks who can’t get vaccinated for health reasons or for whom vaccines are less effective. I was appalled when England made them “advisory”, and when I went down there for a wedding, I was extremely angry when everybody but me took off their mask on the train as soon as we passed the English border. The hotel had signs advising mask wearing IF it was crowded, and nobody else wore them at any time even when it was crowded, because it was just “advice”. This really annoyed me, and it made me so glad that Scotland kept the mandate for shops, transport, and such shared public spaces.”

Conclusion

The majority of respondents (70%) stated that they wear face coverings in public spaces, as it was recognised that this is an important mitigation to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It is also a vital safety precaution to protect people who are at the highest clinical risk, some of whom were previously in the shielding category. There was a comment on the challenges created by face coverings for people who rely on lip reading and facial expressions to communicate. It is essential that transparent face coverings, which will soon be adopted by NHS staff, are available more widely in a range of different settings. All of the respondents who stated that they do not wear face coverings indicated that they are exempt based on the Scottish Government exemption guidance. Some people stated that even though they meet the exemption criteria, they continue to wear face coverings in public spaces for as long as they can. Respondents reflected on the attitudes and behaviours of individuals who do not follow the safety mitigations and it was suggested that there should be greater police presence to enforce the law. There was a correlation between the number of people who stated that they currently wear face coverings in public spaces in Scotland (70%), with the number of people who stated they would continue to wear a face covering if it was not mandated (70%).