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N.S. woman medically exempt from wearing face masks calls for compassion

Click to play video 'Those with medical concerns struggle with mandatory masking' Those with medical concerns struggle with mandatory masking
WATCH: Masks have been mandatory in all Nova Scotia public places for the past month. But as Graeme Benjamin reports, those with valid medical exemptions say the policy is resulting in “mask shaming” both in stores and online – Aug 20, 2020

A Lunenburg County woman who said she’s medically exempt from wearing face masks due to an anxiety disorder is calling for compassion from fellow Nova Scotians.

Tammy Kaulback said a result of her disorder, she’s not able to have anything over her face.

“Even a scarf in the winter,” she said in a Zoom interview Friday. “It just triggers that. I get really short of breath, my heart races, it’s just not good.”

The province made non-medical masks mandatory in all public places last month. It was a decision that Kaulback personally took issue with.

“I knew that it was going to make it difficult, especially with the way it was laid out for us,” she said.

“I wasn’t pleased because I felt it was kind of like closing the barn door after the horse is out.”

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READ MORE: ‘This year will be different’: N.S. to implement mandatory masks for Grade 4 to Grade 12 students

Kaulback said it has forced her to make some changes in how she goes about some of her shopping, as certain stores maintain strict mask policies.

“I don’t attempt the Walmart. I’ve heard direct stories from people who have been asked to leave,” she said. “Now that’s a major retailer I have to take off my list because I can’t go and do what I need to do.”

Kaulback added that ever since the mandatory masking rule was implemented in Nova Scotia, she’s received some sour looks from fellow shoppers while in stores.

“I still get anxious to go into my car and go and do my shopping,” she said. “You do get the people looking at you like, ‘What are you doing in here without a mask?'”

Click to play video 'Mask use now mandatory in Nova Scotia public places' Mask use now mandatory in Nova Scotia public places
Mask use now mandatory in Nova Scotia public places – Jul 31, 2020

Even though the mandatory mask rule is in effect, there isn’t a standard fine or repercussion from Nova Scotia Public Health for those who don’t comply.

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It’s currently up to individual businesses to enforce the rules.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said it’s up to retailers to be accommodating.

“I think what we have to focus on here is someone who is not wearing a mask potentially could be endangering other people,” said Jordio Morgan, CFIB’s vice-president for Atlantic Canada. “So if the store owner thinks of it in those terms, what can I do to protect my other customers, then do that.

“I think it’s a matter of good communication, and that’s where I think you’re going to avoid altercations or people getting upset.”

The Halifax Chamber of Commerce agrees, noting that businesses need to be respectful to the fact that not everyone can wear masks all the time.

“I think someone could mention to that person, “I’m unable to wear a mask. That person should accept that information,” said Patrick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce.

“There is no additional requirement to prove that.”

READ MORE: Mandatory mask rule would be too difficult to enforce in schools, Nova Scotia teacher says

Kaulback is hoping for a better understanding of medical issues that may not be visible. She said that begins with clear messaging from public health.

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“The top-down needs to be telling people that this hostility, and the vitriol, and the online attacks, and the attacks in the stores, this needs to stop,” said Kaulback.

“It doesn’t need to be this us or them, either or, me or you, one side or the other, left or right. It doesn’t need to be that. All good plans are a collaboration of all concerns.”