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'I have a breathing problem,' yells maskless Trader Joe's shopper who was kicked out of store in viral video

Kelly Tyko
USA TODAY
The News Herald

A woman shopping without a mask at a California Trader Joe's caused a scene Friday, calling employees "Democratic pigs" and screaming profanities.

Twitter user D. Giles posted several videos of the incident, which is believed to have taken place at the grocer's newest location in North Hollywood during its opening day. One of the videos went viral Saturday with more than 3.6 million views.

"That man harassed me for not wearing a mask," the woman said in the video. "I have a breathing problem, my doctor will not let me wear a mask. So anyone harassing me to wear a mask, you guys are violating federal law."

California started requiring masks or face coverings be worn inside businesses statewide June 18. Several parts of the state required masks before then.

Trader Joe's officials weren't immediately available for comment Saturday, but the grocer says on its COVID-19 update page that shoppers are asked to wear masks in stores.

"It is our preference for and we strongly encourage customers to wear a mask or face covering while shopping in all our stores," the company said. "Where face coverings are required by state or local authorities, we communicate that to our customers as well."

Many of the comments on social media about the Trader Joe's incident are similar to the responses on a viral Facebook post a maskless consumer posted earlier in the week. In a Facebook post Monday, Amber Lynn Gilles posted a photo of a barista named Lenin Gutierrez and says he refused her service for not wearing a mask.

A GoFundMe campaign for Gutierrez has grown to more than $67,000 as of Saturday afternoon.

Local governments can decide what safety measures to impose on businesses and individual businesses can institute further restrictions, crisis management expert Ronn Torossian, who is at the helm of 5W Public Relations firm, told USA TODAY last month.

Just as businesses can require patrons to wear shirts, they can require them to wear a mask.

The American Lung Association says in a June 18 blog post that "masks are designed to be breathed through and there is no evidence that low oxygen levels occur."

The association also says there is "absolutely no scientific evidence that mask wearing or physical distancing weakens the immune system," but says people with preexisting lung problems should "discuss mask wearing concerns with their health care providers."

USA TODAY previously fact checked claims on whether wearing a face mask for prolonged periods of time would cause someone to experience significant reductions in oxygen intake level, resulting in hypoxemia.

The fact check found there was no evidence to support this as both cloth and surgical masks are unlikely to cause a dangerous drop in oxygen intake because they are not tight fitting.

Another USA TODAY fact check also looked into claims being circulated in a viral social media post that masks can cause brain damage, headaches and high blood pressure by reducing a person’s oxygen intake to dangerous levels. The fact check found claims that mask-wearing will cause serious health effects are false.

The Americans with Disabilities Act website warns of "fraudulent facemask flyers," which include fake "face mask exempt cards," and said in an alert that the "Department of Justice has been made aware of postings or flyers on the internet regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the use of face masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of which include the Department of Justice’s seal."

An anti-mask group called the Freedom to Breathe Agency is believed to have created the face mask exempt cards, which claim the holder is exempt from wearing a mask. According to images of the card posted on social media, "steep penalties" are threatened if a business owner does not act accordingly.

"If found in violation of the ADA you could face steep penalties. Organizations and businesses can be fined up to $75,000 for your first violation and $150,000 for any subsequent violations," the card reads. "Denying access to your business/organization will be also reported to FTBA for further actions."

FTBA is not a state or federal agency.

"These postings were not issued by the Department and are not endorsed by the Department," the ADA says in its warning. "The Department urges the public not to rely on the information contained in these postings and to visit ADA.gov for ADA information issued by the Department."