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Kokua Line: Can asthma sufferer get face mask exemption?

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Question: We didn’t see family last Christmas because of COVID-19, but are hoping to this year if Hawaii opens up. We would have to fly from Vegas with my twin sons, who will have barely turned 3 by then, and also my older son, who has asthma. What are the exemptions for having to wear a mask on the flight?

Answer: Exemptions to the federal order requiring everyone age 2 and older to wear a face mask on U.S. flights likely would not apply to your children, based on your description.

Your twins are too old, and people with asthma generally can wear a face mask safely, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which issued the order in January.

The disability exemption for people who cannot safely wear a mask “is not meant to cover people with disabilities for whom wearing a mask might only be difficult,” the agency says on its website.

“A person with a condition that causes intermittent respiratory distress, such as asthma, likely does not qualify for this exemption because people with asthma, or other similar conditions, can generally wear a mask safely,” according to the CDC. Read more at

The disability exemption applies to people who, because of their disability, would be unable to remove a mask without assistance if their breathing was obstructed, such as people with impaired motor skills, quadriplegia or limb restrictions, or who because of an intellectual, developmental, cognitive or psychiatric disability would not understand that they should remove their mask if they couldn’t breathe, the CDC says.

Q: If I decide to pursue this anyway, how do I do it?

A: Processes vary by airline; check airline websites for specifics. As noted in the previous question, face mask exemptions are not meant to be easily obtained.

For example, Hawaiian Airlines’ website says that passengers unable to wear a face mask due to a medical condition or disability “will be required to complete an assessment with a medical professional via phone at the airport,” which can take more than an hour. Southwest Airlines’ process begins at least a week before the flight and includes a form from the passenger or guardian, a separate letter from their doctor, a telephone screening with a Southwest Airlines medical contractor and a negative COVID-19 test. United Airlines’ exemption request form also is available online, and must be filled out by the passenger (or guardian) and their doctor and submitted at least a week before the flight; if approved, the passenger also must supply a negative COVID-19 test. United’s form echoes the CDC’s language that exemptions will not be granted to passengers for whom it is merely difficult to wear a face mask.

Q: I had to amend my federal income tax return, and it’s taking forever to get the refund. Is there anything I can do? I’ve called but never gotten an answer.

A: The Internal Revenue Service updated its website Friday to say that it’s taking more than 20 weeks to process Form 1040-X, Amended Individual Tax Return. As of Sept. 25 it had more than 2.8 million unprocessed amended returns, which it is working through in the order received. Taxpayers are told not to call or email the IRS, but to use the online tool “Where’s My Amended Return?” for status updates; the website is 3a8ICUq. Don’t file a new return, the agency says.

Q: Will the Labor Department ever reopen its offices?

A: Yes, the department’s director said last week, although there is no specific date set to resume in-person service.

When it does resume, some staff now handling scheduled appointments over the phone would be diverted to provide it, said Anne Perreira-Eustaqio. The telephone appointments have proved to be a popular and efficient option the department hopes to continue even after in-person service resumes. To request a telephone appointment, go to

Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email

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