Windsor

LaSalle woman with extreme respiratory issues says business should let her shop without a mask

While public health officials say wearing masks is a vital tool in containing the spread of COVID-19, Leslieann Roy says she's exempt because she suffers from a number of respiratory issues, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema and asthma.

Leslieann Roy says businesses fail to understand that she has an exemption due to her condition

Leslieann Roy says she's exempt from the mandatory mask order because she suffers from a number of respiratory issues. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

While public health officials say wearing masks is a vital tool in containing the spread of COVID-19, Leslieann Roy says she's exempt because she suffers from a number of respiratory issues, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema and asthma.

Roy said the mandatory mask order means she is unable to get her regular day-to-day tasks done as it makes it harder for her to breathe, adding that wearing a mask is a terrifying experience for someone like her who is already short of breath. 

"It gets to the point that if I wear it anymore than five minutes I lose my breath. I feel like I'm trapped inside something so small, it's squeezing the air right out of me," she said.

Last month, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) issued an order for commercial businesses to enforce mask-wearing within their establishments. 

WECHU said a person shall be exempt from wearing a face covering if they have a medical condition, such as a respiratory disease, which Roy does. The mandatory mask order does not require individuals to provide proof of a medical exemption.

Roy says she has difficulty communicating her health issues to store staff and says she's being stopped everywhere for not wearing a masks. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

"I have to take three different puffers, every day. Two of them I take four to six times a day. It is unbearable trying to breathe in the humid weather," Roy said.

But Roy is having difficulty communicating this to store staff and says she's being stopped everywhere.

"It's the grocery stores. It's the banks. It's everybody in Lasalle. It's in Windsor. It's people [who] don't understand. You've got major lung issues. You can't breathe through a mask and they're telling you to put the bloody thing on. It makes no sense," she said.

Diane Feldman, respiratory educator at The Lung Association, said there is no evidence that wearing a mask would exasperate lung disease, but Roy is not alone when it comes to feeling claustrophobic when wearing a mask. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Roy — who says she's extremely cautious when she's in public and goes out of her way to stay as far away from people as possible — is asking shops to be understanding of where she is coming from.

"Take your time and listen to the people talking to you. Listen to what they're saying and try and understand their health problems. Don't ignore them — understand them," she said.

Diane Feldman, respiratory educator at The Lung Association, said there is no evidence that wearing a mask would exacerbate lung disease, but Roy is not alone when it comes to feeling claustrophobic when wearing a mask.

"People with COPD have a certain shortness of breath so when you put something like a mask on their face. They feel very confined like they're suffocating and it doesn't really matter what kind of mask it is," she said.

Feldman said there is no specific type of mask to recommend for people with COPD, but says people with the disease should look for alternative ways to get certain tasks done — an example being using curbside pickup or delivery when grocery shopping.

WECHU said private businesses must create their own policies for how they address medical exemptions, adding that some businesses may choose to restrict all non-mask wearers.

With files from Jacob Barker

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