Masks and HIPAA the Focus of Reader Debate After Trip to Sterling | Westword

Reader: Masks Are Safe and Effective. Wear One or Stay Home!

A visit to Sterling prompted plenty of debate.
A gathering in Sterling last weekend.
A gathering in Sterling last weekend. Michael Roberts
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On August 1, Michael Roberts headed to Sterling, which was once a major hot spot, thanks to a COVID-19 outbreak in the state prison there. Sterling is the largest town in Logan County, with a population of 13,000, and despite the early outbreak there and Governor Jared Polis's mandatory mask mandate issued July 15, about half the people Roberts saw did not have facial coverings.

There's a reason for that, responded a young resident of Sterling. In a subsequent piece, "Gloria" said that she's faced social ostracism and embarrassing questions because physical issues make it impossible to wear a mask when she goes out.

But some readers don't buy it. Says Gustav:
Bunch of bull. If she really was told by her doctor she can't wear a mask, all she has to do is wear a face shield.
Adds Peggy:
There really is NO medical reason to not wear a mask. And for a short period of time, just uncaring and selfish on her part. Why would a heart issue have anything to do with a mask? So many types of face coverings available. Purely selfish.
Notes KJ:
Given her medical conditions, she probably should be staying home during the pandemic. Most stores have online ordering and curbside pickup. And if one doesn't, I'm sure a call to the manager would make it happen for her.
Responds Lisa: 
In no way should that woman be in public. She is at high risk of dying herself and her condition won’t stop her from breathing COVID on people I’m sorry for her — another tragedy — but it doesn’t change to need for a mask in public.
And readers didn't just criticize "Gloria." Comments Joe:
Utter nonsense: How exactly does wearing a mask cause her to have a stroke or heart attack? Those dots don't connect. You'd think Westword would bother to have a medical professional comment on the story but I guess not. If she has a demented mask phobia and refuses to put one on while getting her "essentials" (ahem) at Walmart, then she can have them bring her groceries out to her car. This is just a phony attempt at getting attention and playing the victim in that desperate attention grab, and Westword should be ashamed at themselves for giving her the ink.
Responds another reader:
Journalists should be responsible for spreading misinformation. This is not an op-ed, and it's not the time for op-eds. No one cares about opinions in a country full of idiots. Wear a mask.
Concludes Alex: 
I was disappointed to see this article. The claims "Gloria" makes are not medically backed, and are very much in line with the either uninformed or intentionally misleading statements that many people who are trying to politicize masks wearing regularly make. (For example, HIPAA has nothing to do with disclosing your own medical information to someone at a store, it is a protection over private health information that, as described by one professor of law and bioethics as "applies only to health information that is in the possession of what the law refers to as ‘covered entities'"...and covered entities include health plans, health care clearinghouses and health care providers that conduct transactions electronically, per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.) Presenting this woman's narrative without also presenting the well-established medical fact that masks are safe and effective at both preventing the spread of COVID-19 and in some cases lessening the chance of contracting it is irresponsible journalism and seems designed to fuel an argument that could literally cost people their lives.
Referring to others with respiratory conditions, "Gloria" had told Roberts: "I feel like we all have to disclose our personal medical info to strangers, over and over again, in order to explain ourselves. That is definitely a violation of my rights. I would certainly never ask a total stranger to disclose their medical info to me, although I am expected to. Because there is no other way for me to explain why I'm not wearing a mask."

In his comment, Alex refers to a USA Today story that concludes HIPAA doesn't apply "to questions from a business owner to a patron, or one person to another. It is legal to ask why a person is not wearing a mask, including asking about a medical condition that prevents it."

But that won't stop people from debating mask mandates...or our coverage. Says Scott:
You are searching far and wide for people not wearing masks so you can shame them with this bullshit story. I'd say your traveling unnecessarily puts people more at risk with you going from Denver into all these small towns and back again searching for free-thinking people that don't want to wear a mask.You are causing more harm than good in your attempt to stay relevant.
What do you think of the mask mandate? Our coverage of COVID-19? Post a comment or share your thoughts at [email protected].
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