Costco is now requiring that customers who can’t wear face masks for medical reasons—which appears to be rare overall—wear face shields instead. The store has required face masks for all customers since May, but their original policy allowed people to go without a mask if they said they had medical reasons for doing so. Now, everyone will have to wear some type of face covering in Costco stores, the company wrote on its website on November 10.
“Members and guests must wear a face mask that covers their mouth and nose at all times. Individuals who are unable to wear a face mask due to a medical condition must wear a face shield,” the company said. “Entry to Costco will be granted only to those wearing a face mask or face shield…For members who are unable to wear a mask or face covering, Costco has delivery options available on Costco.com.”
In guidance updated on November 12, the CDC does not recommend face shields as an alternative to masking because shields are open on the sides and bottom. This makes it easier for you to expel large respiratory droplets into the air, which is the main way coronavirus spreads. That means you could spread the virus to other people even when you’re wearing a face shield, whereas masks are more likely to catch those droplets, curbing your risk of potentially infecting other people. The World Health Organization (WHO) says face shields “do not provide the equivalent protection [to face masks] in keeping the virus from being transmitted to others.” And, as SELF previously reported, it’s also not clear how much face shields protect the person wearing them. The CDC says it seems as though shields would mainly protect the eyes because of those gaps on the sides and bottom. The Cleveland Clinic recommends that if you wear a face shield, you wear it in addition to, not instead of, a face mask. (Even cloth masks protect the wearer to some degree, the CDC says.)
Face shields may still be appropriate in some circumstances, the CDC says, such as if a person is trying to communicate with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing. If you’re wearing a face shield for this kind of reason, the face shield should wrap around your face and extend past your chin. Be careful not to touch your shield when removing it, and disinfect it regularly or dispose of it per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Now, you might be wondering what counts as a medical condition that bars someone from wearing a face mask. Worth noting: The Department of Justice, which oversees the Americans With Disabilities Act, has made clear that no federal agency issues or endorses medical exemption cards for masks. Doctors have reported that people are coming to them seeking medical exemptions from face masks with little cause, and experts say it’s actually rare that people have an exceedingly difficult time wearing face masks for medical reasons.
To that end, the CDC says that everyone should wear a mask, except for those two years old or younger; those who are unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to remove a mask without assistance; and people who have trouble breathing. The CDC also acknowledges that some people with sensory, cognitive, or behavioral conditions may struggle to wear a mask properly or may not be able to tolerate one at all. In practice, that can mean that people with severe, chronic lung diseases may have a hard time wearing cloth masks, as SELF previously reported. So can people with anxiety who, say, have panic attacks when wearing masks due to claustrophobia or past trauma.
In these kinds of scenarios, it’s completely understandable that a person might have a legitimately hard time wearing a mask and would need to find alternatives, like shopping online instead of in person, or experimenting to find the most comfortable, tolerable masks possible. It may even be necessary to talk to a doctor or therapist, if at all possible, to find adaptations and coping mechanisms for any health condition that affects mask-wearing. The bottom line, though, is that experts are more adamant than at any prior point in this pandemic that wearing face masks in public is necessary for the health and safety of us all.