“You should be ashamed of yourself,” a stranger told Clara Kribs as she walked through a crosswalk along 43rd and Broadway in the Westport neighborhood of Kansas City last Tuesday.
The stranger, a woman, looked Kribs and her children up and down. Her two sons, ages 6 and 9, were wearing masks — outdoors.
“You don’t have to wear masks,” the woman continued.
Kribs was mad. It was the second time in less than a month that someone in Kansas City had questioned her family’s decision to continue to wear masks.
“I said, ‘Why are you so afraid of a little piece of fabric? It’s just a mask,’” Kribs said. “And she’s like, ‘well, you’re the one who’s afraid of, a variant,’ And I was just like, oh my gosh.”
The word “variant,” Kribs said, was accompanied by air quotes when the woman chided her. The belief that COVID-19, along with the delta variant, are a hoax has continually been a factor in vaccine hesitancy and thus the surge in cases across the country.
Roughly a week after Kribs was accosted in the street, Kansas City officials announced a new mask mandate that will take effect August 2. The mandate will require all people aged five or older, regardless of vaccination status, mask in public indoor spaces.
Kribs’s husband works in health care and they’ve witnessed how bad COVID-19 can get, she said. Although the couple is vaccinated they decided to continue to wear masks and encourage their children to do the same — they are too young to get a shot.
She feels people get mad at them for it, though, despite guidance from local health agencies as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising people continue to wear masks in certain situations.
In late June, Kribs took her children to get a haircut. As the three of them left the business with masks on, a man pulled over in his car over to yell at them, “you don’t have to wear masks outside. It’s ridiculous.”
Her children were confused, she said. They didn’t understand why there was a problem with the masks.
Being called out for wanting to protect her family frustrated her, Kribs said.
“I felt like I should have clarified like, what should I be ashamed of exactly?” Kribs said. “Taking care of my children? In the heat of the moment, I obviously didn’t think of that. But I’ve been mulling it over for the last week. You know, reliving it.”
Wearing masks: a divisive subject
Wearing masks has been divisive since the pandemic began. News outlets around the country have reported instances in which discussions over wearing masks have turned into physical altercations.
In August 2020 THV11 in Arkansas reported that a 64-year-old Little Rock woman told police she had been verbally harassed and beaten by young men for wearing a face mask in a grocery store parking lot. A few weeks later, ABC7 in New York reported that a 68-year-old security guard was slashed in the face while riding the subway. He said it was because he was wearing a mask, which his attacker was not, according to the story.
Similar incidents have occured this year.
Arizona’s Family reported earlier this year that a gift shop owner pulled a gun on a customer for not complying with his “no mask” policy and then refusing to leave.
In early May two women were attacked in New York City by a stranger who told them to remove their face masks, USA TODAY reported. They said one of the women was struck in the head by a hammer which caused a laceration, according to police.
And at an Aldi in Omaha on Tuesday, a man who wasn’t wearing a mask spit on and fired a BB gun at a masked man, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
“I asked him why he would do that and he said, ‘You’re on the other team,’” said the man, who asked not to be identified, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
Mask mandates return to Kansas City
As COVID-19 cases in the Kansas City metropolitan area continue rising at rates not seen since January, health officials have reiterated the use of masks and getting vaccinated is crucial to halt the spread across the region.
In late June, the World Health Organization suggested that due to the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, even vaccinated individuals should wear face masks when possible.
“People cannot feel safe just because they had the two doses. They still need to protect themselves… vaccines alone won’t stop community transmission,” Dr. Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant director-general for access to medicines and health products, said during a virtual press conference on June 25. “People need to continue to use masks consistently, be in ventilated spaces, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, the physical distance, avoid crowding.”
Along with Mayor Quinton Lucas’s announcement of a mask mandate on Wednesday, other cities such as Los Angeles and St. Louis have also reinstated mask mandates.
Roughly two weeks ago, ten Kansas City-area health agencies issued a joint public health advisory recommending masks for people who aren’t fully vaccinated in crowded outdoor settings and indoor public places. The advisory also stated that vaccinated people should be cautious around people with unknown vaccination status.
Kansas City health leaders also continue encouraging Kansas Citians to get vaccinated to prevent an increase of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
‘I’m anxious now’
Kribs said she feels anxious when her family goes out with a mask, even if they are going somewhere indoors.
The thought of having to face someone who disapproves of wearing masks— especially in front of her kids— worries Kribs. She said she doesn’t want them to hear something rude or inappropriate. She also doesn’t want them to be nervous about wearing their masks, she said.
“I feel worried that somebody is going to say something to us. I’m on edge,” Kribs said. “I feel like I need to be prepared with an arsenal of snappy comebacks so that they’ll leave us alone.”
Even with the new mandate, she is still concerned.
The mandate will only make people angrier, she said. She predicts the disagreement over masks will get worse.
“Some people are annoyed, they feel like it infringes on their freedoms, and I think that that carries over,” Kribs said. “So when they see somebody wearing a mask, they get triggered, and they feel like they need to say something to express their big feelings.”