Pennsylvania Targeting Doctors Because of General Mask Exemptions

Pennsylvania Targeting Doctors Because of General Mask Exemptions

The Health Department said that some doctors are pushing stock exemptions that are available to anyone, regardless of medical necessity. Health officials did not immediately say how many doctors have offered such notes. “The administration is aware that some physicians have indicated that they intend to offer blanket ‘exemptions’ to individuals with whom they have no treatment relationship, and regardless of whether the individual’s physical condition required an exemption,” the Health Department said in a written statement to The Associated Press.

A statewide, universal mask mandate for Pennsylvania schools went into effect Tuesday as the Wolf administration seeks to keep school buildings open for in-person learning amid the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The acting health secretary’s face covering order contains an exemption for students for whom wearing a mask would cause or worsen a medical condition. But parents in districts that require a doctor’s note or other medical documentation have complained it’s been difficult to find a physician who will sign off. Those doctors, the department said, “have been and will be referred to the appropriate licensing boards for possible disciplinary action.”

The Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees the state medical board, wouldn’t confirm the existence of an investigation or complaint related to blanket mask exemptions, but said it investigates every potential violation it becomes aware of. In Lebanon County, Dr. Joel Yeager put a stock, four-page exemption letter on the homepage of his practice’s website. The site invited people to “print your own copy.”

Yeager’s form letter, dated Sept. 6, claimed that wearing a mask can cause health problems, and asserted that parents “are exercising their constitutionally protected right in claiming this exception/exemption.” The letter, which spread rapidly and far beyond Yeager’s territory, said the medical practice had received numerous requests for an exemption from both existing patients and from people with whom he had no professional relationship. “Unfortunately, many physicians have chosen to abandon their patients in their hour of greatest need. Many are refusing to give valid medical exemptions from masking or vaccination,” Yeager wrote.

Parents took to social media to thank Yeager for the form, and said they would submit it to their children’s schools. One parent, from Leechburg — a small town outside Pittsburgh, some 240 miles (380 kilometers) from Yeager’s practice — wrote that her son brought Yeager’s form to school, but was turned down and then handed a mask to wear. Tiffany Nix, the superintendent of Leechburg Area School District, confirmed Friday that she had rejected a stock exemption letter.

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