COVID-19: Calgarian says she can’t wear mask because of PTSD, wants exemption card

A Calgary woman with a medical condition that she says prevents her from donning a face covering is calling for an exemption card that would allow her to enter stores requiring face masks.

Sixty-nine-year-old Brenda Willy says she is unable to wear a face mask or face shield due to PTSD.

She told Global News she carries letters from her doctor and psychologist with her when she goes grocery shopping to prove she’s unable to mask up amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve been harassed and bullied in public,” she said. “I have severe PTSD from childhood trauma. In one incident, I was suffocated with a pillow.

“I did it one time, when I first had to go to my doctor, and I put the mask on, and by the time I left, I had to stop on Macleod Trail (as I had) a full blown panic attack.”

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Willy said she has been denied entry at several grocery stores, and as more shops implement stricter mask rules, she’s concerned about where she’ll be able to buy her groceries.

“I’m going to — pretty soon… not allowed to buy food anyplace,” she said. “I don’t have access to a computer because I’m low income –plus I’m old. I wouldn’t even know how to work it. So I can’t do curbside and I can’t do online,” Willy said.

“Calgary’s (supposed) to be a caring community and our seniors are so important? I don’t feel important. This is absolute blatant discrimination against a person with a disability.”

Read more: Calgary city council extends mask bylaw through 2021, increases fines

Blush Lane and Co-op foods recently implemented a stricter mask policy: no mask, no entry.

Both grocery chains told Global News that medical conditions are not exempted but customers are welcome to shop online with delivery or do curbside pickup.

Other stores like Community Natural Foods had moved to a zero-tolerance policy back in January. While there are no medical exemptions allowed either, general manager Adam Martin said in addition to delivery and curbside pickup, they offer personal shopping for clients who are unable to wear a mask in store, and can even FaceTime them as they shop.

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“I think the concern really came from (the fact that) there’s a lot of uncertainty with COVID-19,” Martin said. “We were really hearing from staff: ‘There is a safety concern here. I’m not sure about…’

“Top priority has to be safety. Staff safety and customer safety has to be a priority.

Read more: Union wants Alberta government to limit grocery trips to slow COVID-19 spread

“Give us your shopping list. We’ll maybe jump on FaceTime with you. We’ll do this as personally as we possibly can but in very real time, and we’ll go and get your groceries.”

For Willy, she thinks the problem could be easily solved with an exemption card that she can carry around.

“If the city or the province came up with some kind of registerable thing, then I (would feel) respected and I could go about, because this isn’t going to end,” she said.

“This COVID(-19) is here to stay, and we know that now, and the variants are going to continue… I’d rather die from COVID-19 than the way I’ve had to live in the past year (of) my life because this has just been horrific.”

In a statement, the City of Calgary said there is no requirement to show proof of exemption.

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“We have asked Calgarians and businesses to lead with a compassionate approach in understanding the bylaw exemptions, as they were included to make the bylaw both inclusive, and easy to understand and follow,” the City of Calgary’s Jennifer Chiesa said.

“Currently, wearing a face covering is mandated by a public health order issued by the chief medical officer of health in Alberta. As this order supersedes the temporary municipal bylaw, if exemption proof was introduced by the City of Calgary, the province’s current public health order would also have to require it, to be universally recognized locally.”

The province said there are no plans to introduce a card for medical exemptions.

On Thursday, the UFCW Local 401 sent a letter to all major retailers calling for compliance. The letter raises concerns from front-line members about customers who are not masking.

“The law is clear. Masks must be worn,” the letter reads. “The science is clear. A failure to mask creates a serious risk. The situation has worsened with the appearance of aggressive variants. It is bad enough that you are failing in your obligation to provide a safe work environment – it adds insult to injury when employees who exercise their right to refuse unsafe work are chastised or disciplined.

“No employee can be required to serve or interact with a customer without a mask.”

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However, the union told Global News it believes exceptions can be made for those with medical conditions.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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