Prominent respiratory group calls for elimination of exemptions for respiratory patients to use face masks

There have been many misleading health news stories, hoaxes and biased information about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic circulating on the internet, and also in printed media and on TV. However, sometimes confusion and misinformation occur through official channels, and it can have serious consequences.

One of them is the exemption for respiratory patients to use a facemask, mandatory elsewhere for everyone both in shared outdoor and indoor spaces since May 2020. The Spanish and British laws state: “Those persons who present some type of respiratory difficulty that may be aggravated by the use of the mask, and those whose use is contraindicated for health or disability reasons, are exempted from this obligation.”

The Respiratory Effectiveness Group (REG), has reviewed the available evidence and found no evidence to support this exception.

The REG is an independent global group of medical doctors and researchers in Spain, the United Kingdom and many of the EU member states, the United States, Canada and Australia, among others, have reviewed the available evidence.

In an article published in the European Respiratory Journal (accessible from https://doi.org/10.1183/13993003.03325-2020), it was concluded that there is no evidence to support this exception, and that patients with a respiratory disease are at a high risk of suffering severe COVID-19, in Spain, the UK and elsewhere.

The REG says we must succeed in eliminating this exception.

Dr Joan B. Soriano, medical epidemiologist at the Respiratory Dept. of Hospital La Princesa in Madrid, Spain, member of the WHO COVID-19 Clinical Network Knowledge Exchange Team, and primary author stated: “Patients with asthma, COPD or other respiratory diseases should wear the mask without exceptions. If they have respiratory failure or with a feeling of shortness of breath when putting it on, they should most likely limit their activity, especially outdoors.”

Not using a mask to avoid an asthma attack, or exacerbations of COPD, or of other respiratory diseases, due to an alleged increase in inspiratory pressures through a mask, is unfounded.

Professor Sinthia Bosnic-Anticevich, from the Woolcock Institute at The University of Sydney, who is President of REG and also co-author, also stated: “Please, if you or a relative of yours, have asthma, COPD or other chronic respiratory disease, wear a mask to protect yourself and others. This is a new virus and a new disease, but clear information and individual decisions are critical to defeating this pandemic.”

It is estimated there are 545 million people worldwide suffering a chronic respiratory disease, and not wearing a face mask may carry increased risk of personal and group infection.