An East Texas man says he was made to leave public property before he could pay his water bill—all because he couldn’t wear a mask. The city confirmed most of the story—adding there’s now been “additional training” for staff—but one doctor cautions citizens that exemptions not being honored is the current trend.

Enrique Duarte got his water bill from the City of Tyler in the mail. On September 3 at around 11:25 a.m., he went to pay the city water department.

He was so upset about his experience, he reached out to Texas Scorecard. Because Enrique speaks limited English, his wife, Nely, helped relay his story to us.

“He didn’t have a mask,” she said. “He can’t wear one because he has a medical condition, and he’s also allergic to it.” Section 2 of Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide mask mandate provides exemptions for people with such issues.

At first, there were no problems. In fact, Nely said her husband didn’t even see any signs requiring a mask. He was allowed inside and waited until he was called forward. “Then this man came in who was wearing a mask, and then he [asked] the security guard, ‘Why wasn’t he wearing a mask?’” Nely said. “Then my husband said he had a medical condition, and that guy said, ‘It doesn’t matter.’”

That’s when Nely said the security guard got involved. “Because the guy made a complaint, they told [Enrique] that they couldn’t accept his payment because he wasn’t wearing a mask and he was there illegally,” she said. “The security guard grabbed my husband from the shoulder and he told them that he needed to leave the place.”

After hearing Enrique’s story, Texas Scorecard sent a press inquiry to the mayor and city council of Tyler. We received a response from the city’s communications director, Julie Goodgame.

“Our water business office was notified that there was a customer refused entry on 9-3-2020 for not wearing a mask by a security guard,” she wrote. “Per the guard, the customer did state that he had a medical condition. The security guard asked him if he had something to confirm it and the customer said no.”

In a previous article, healthcare lawyer and former State Rep. Matt Rinaldi discussed how mask mandates put businesses in a tough spot with American with Disabilities Act requirements. “A business is risking liability if they ask anything beyond whether a disability prevents them from wearing a mask,” he said. Questions have also been raised regarding just how enforceable state and county mask mandates are.

Through his wife, Enrique shared the issues he has with a mask. “One time, he put it [on], just for a second, and he started being itchy. Then later on, in a couple of minutes, he was getting rashes, and then it was red like little pimples,” she recalled.

We spoke with Dr. Tom Reed, a surgeon of 37 years and author of “Your Health Has Been Hijacked,” and asked him if these symptoms sounded legitimate.

“I am not a mask expert. I can just tell you what my experience as a surgeon is and … over the years, seeing allergic reactions to a whole bunch of things,” Reed said. “I’ve done a fair amount of research in masks. Not how they’re made and not the chemicals that they use on the masks, but any fiber, any man-made fiber like that, has the potential of causing some type of reaction. As few people may experience that reaction, they are still reactions, and it wouldn’t be totally unheard of to have a reaction like that.”

“It’s just really hard to say exactly what was going on when I’m hearing this second- or thirdhand.”

“One of the other reasons he can’t use the mask … is because he had a cancer in his right hip,” Nely said. “That cancer that he had technically … ate all his bone in that part of his hip, so he also has some [lower back] problems.”

Nely added, “When he walks for a very long distance, he’s short on breath. So that’s why he doesn’t wear a mask … because he’s short on breath. He can’t breathe.”

The city’s response goes on. “The guard thought he was required to have some documentation and so, instead, offered an accommodation. The customer was informed that he could make his payment just outside at the kiosk but declined,” said Goodgame.

“Our Water Business Office has provided additional training to their on-site security and clarified that individuals declaring they are medically exempt from the Governor’s orders is sufficient to enter the building,” she added.

Through his wife, Enrique said this experience made him feel “terrible” and “bad.”

Nely said this is not the first time that Enrique has been kicked out of an establishment due to not wearing a mask. Two grocery stores have thrown him out. “People are arguing with you, they’re fighting with you, they’re snitching on you because you’re not wearing a mask, and then they go tell this person or the manager.”

“They shouldn’t kick you out. You need to purchase food,” Nely added. “But because of, supposedly, the order the government gave, nobody’s handling [it] correctly. You just walk not even near the door, and they’re already kicking you out.”

A North Texas woman—who also claims a disability when it comes to wearing masks—expressed similar struggles when speaking to her county commissioners about how state and local mask mandates are affecting her. Another woman was denied service from a private business and harassed when she claimed a medical exemption from wearing a mask.

What, then, should those with mask issues do? “It’s a very difficult question to answer because even medical exemptions are right now being frowned upon,” Dr. Reed replied. “If one mask doesn’t work, I think what would be reasonable is to try a different mask as well.”

“The best thing to do is try to get a medical exemption … going to a doctor and explaining the situation to a primary care [doctor], or even an allergist, and explain the situation.” Dr. Reed also recommended going to a dermatologist.

“In today’s world, there’s an overreaction of businesses who are following the mandates,” Dr. Reed explains. “Even if you have a medical exemption, a religious exemption, or whatever kind of exemption you have, you still are not able to come into [an] establishment.”

“I think that’s very sad, I think that’s very wrong, because it’s based on lack of knowledge and lack of science,” he adds.

Regarding Gov. Abbott, the Duartes have a very cool attitude. “We don’t have any positive thing to say about him,” Nely said. “Because what he has done with this order is just to make a lot of conflict … if you can’t wear a mask.”

“He’s also violating our rights because we have the freedom to choose whether we want to wear one or not,” she said. “That’s our choice.”

“We can’t let this keep going and going anymore, because we’re already tired of all this and scared [and] frustrated,” she added. “It’s the governor’s fault and everybody who’s involved in all this.”

Concerned Texans are encouraged to contact their city council, county commissioners, state representative, state senator, and Gov. Greg Abbott.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.