Masks Are Required Campus Photo

A sign at an entrance to Jayhawk Boulevard reads, "Masks are required inside and outside." 

Guest column

I’m done with hearing the, “Not wearing a mask is like not wearing a seatbelt,” analogy. 

Because not wearing a mask is very, very different from not wearing a seatbelt. If you get into an accident, or roll your car, without a seatbelt, you are more likely to be killed or maimed. You end up in a hospital, wheelchair or worse. The person most at risk from not wearing a seatbelt is the person who didn't click in their seatbelt. 

Not wearing a mask is like DUI (Driving Under the Influence) or DWI (Driving While Intoxicated.)  Like if you drive while intoxicated or drugged, and, absent any deliberate intent to cause harm, kill or badly injure someone.

“I didn’t feel drunk,” I’ve heard countless times. “I didn't mean to hurt anybody. It was an accident.” 

“I didn’t feel sick,” people now share. “I didn’t mean to infect anybody. How could I know? Everybody was doing it. It was an accident.”

As a therapist who has worked over the years with men and women ordered to get “treatment” as part of their “diversion,” or as a consequence for a DUI, I see refusing to wear a mask as worse than a DUI. Most people choose to not mask when they’re sober. The only “influence” is political rhetoric, maybe peer pressure and an exaggerated sense of entitlement. 

Intention is a factor in most criminal cases. We have degrees of homicide, degrees of robbery. Severity of a crime is measured, in part, by intent. 

But not deliberately intending to kill or harm is not an excuse when your choices harm other people. A criminal act exists regardless of premeditation or intent. 

Under Kansas Statute 21-5403, second degree homicide is described as “unintentionally but recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.” It’s more serious that voluntary manslaughter, or vehicular homicide. 

Not wearing a mask demonstrates an intentional disregard for the safety and lives of others under some philosophical umbrella of “personal liberty” and “my rights.” It is like playing with fire in a dry pasture and then being bewildered as to how that itty-bitty spark ended up causing so much damage. It’s “manifesting extreme indifference.”

This pandemic has been politicized. The legislators of Kansas adopted the same model as our U.S. president and the Senate: let someone else make the tough calls. Meanwhile, as cases skyrocket, we still have no idea what the long-term consequences of COVID-19 will be. 

Had our current policies and attitudes been in place, we’d still be fighting tuberculosis and polio. 

"Friends don’t let friends drive drunk" is a slogan that is accepted by most of us.  But should friends let friends hurt other people, infect people, or be infected, by not wearing a mask? Do friends bear any responsibility to speak up? 

When I walk downtown, past groups of young people without masks, I feel invisible. When I drive past gatherings of students, porches filled, spilling out of houses and on to alleys and front yards, I feel helpless rage. 

But I also see hundreds of students who are wearing masks, who are respecting the critical guidelines for how we can all protect each other — and still go about the necessary tasks of daily life. 

So, this is not for everyone who is trying, but for those who think that the coronavirus is not a big deal, who maintain that they have their “liberties” and “rights”: 

Every time you choose your own entitlement, your “right to not mask, to not distance, to party down, you put my health, the health of my friends, my family, at risk. 

I’m now 70, so I get that I have a different perspective. But I’ve worked hard for 50 years and I deserve a decade or so to enjoy the fruits of all that labor.  I can’t travel now, not with COVID, but I intend to again. I’m a smart, competent, generous, creative woman. I’m not dead … yet … and I’m not a statistical write-off.

I have rights too, like my right to an earned and well-deserved future. 

So, from where I stand, the choice to not mask is not just selfish and stupid. 

That choice is criminal.  

Susan Kraus, MSW, LSCSW, is a therapist and mediator in private practice. She also taught at the University of Kansas (graduate level, half-time) for thirteen years. Her last novel, “Insufficient Evidence,” explored the interface of campus sexual assault and hook-up culture.