State representative explains mask difficulty

Mike Genet
Jeff Coleman

Jeff Coleman has had asthma since his teenage years and says he takes an inhaler everywhere he goes.

The hot, humid conditions typical of Missouri summers tend to amplify his asthma, the state representative and Grain Valley Board of Education member said, and wearing a mask as mandated by current health guidelines can make breathing difficult and he can claim a medical exemption. Given that, the grief Coleman said he’s received on social media in recent weeks for not fully wearing a mask in public has become intolerable.

Specifically, an early July incident at JJ’s Restaurant on the Plaza in Kansas City about his mask wearing has been misconstrued and overblown, he said, and he believes much of the social media criticism has political motives.

“When it is very muggy out, very humid out, my asthma gets worse, which is actually why wearing a mask is difficult because you’re breathing in humid air,” said Coleman. “Right now, I’m using my inhaler all the time, even without a mask.

“People think it’s a political thing, and that’s not at all what this is about,” he said. “I’m not using this as an excuse to not wear a mask. It’s my reality. It’s just hard for me to breathe.”

Under ADA guidelines, Coleman said, people don’t have the right to ask him to prove if he has a condition.

“I carry around my inhaler,” he said, “and every single one of my family members wears a mask.”

The hoarseness and coughing, evident during his conversation with a reporter, are also signs of asthma, he added.

Coleman said his fellow Board of Education members and district administration are aware of his situation and have not raised a fuss with him about masks or medical exemptions.

At Grain Valley’s recent graduation at the University of Central Missouri, where masks were required by everyone in attendance, he was photographed with a mask over his mouth but not his nose, and otherwise often had his mask resting on his chin. Coleman did not wear his mask during school board meetings, but he said they’re seated at least six feet apart there, and he always tries to keep enough distance between himself and others, particularly people he doesn’t know.

The JJ’s incident that found its way onto multiple Facebook pages, in which Coleman allegedly caused a scene and tried to intimidate the young female hostess, was not portrayed accurately, he said.

When Coleman and his party went to the restaurant, he said, the hostess said he and another person in the party needed to don masks. Coleman said he would prefer not to because of his medical condition.

“I wasn’t trying to intimidate her,” he said. “A security guard saw what was happening and knew who I was. He told me to hold the mask up to my face (while walking to a table), and that’s exactly what I did.”

Coleman said the exchange as he left the restaurant also frustrated him. He said he wanted to leave his card in case the owner wanted to contact him afterward.

“I had to use both hands to get the card, and my mask came off,” Coleman said, at which point the hostess jumped back. “I was not even close to her. I just tried to leave my business card.”

Coleman said his wife obtained a reusable “gator mask” – essentially a neck scarf that extends above the mouth and nose – but what has especially aggravated him about masks during the summer is he’s not trying to make a political statement, but he believes there’s political persuasion behind much of the criticism he’s received, and it flies against being the “party of tolerance.”

“If it’s people I know and that I know they don’t have anything, I’ll basically treat them as normal,” he said. “I’m trying doubly to make sure I don’t get close to people I don’t know.”