Alberta has more 'cynical spreaders' who ignore COVID-19 safety guidelines than many other provinces: poll

Alberta has a far higher percentage than most provinces of those who can be deemed "cynical spreaders" of COVID-19 — people who make little or no effort to stop the spread, a new poll suggests.

Percentage of people who flout guidelines is 2.3 times higher in Alberta than Ontario, poll suggests

A woman wears a face mask as she browses on her phone in Montreal. Overall, about half of Canadians can be considered 'infection fighters' who follow virus suppression behaviours carefully, but that percentage drops sharply in Alberta. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Alberta has a far higher percentage than most provinces of those who can be deemed "cynical spreaders" of COVID-19 — people who make little or no effort to stop the spread, a new poll suggests.

The survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute says the people it calls "cynical spreaders" flout the public safety rules, have expanded their social circles to larger groups including strangers, don't physically distance and are ambivalent toward handwashing and mask-wearing, among other actions. They also tend to be by far the most critical of the way that public health and political leaders have handled the crisis, especially on a federal level.

They contrast sharply with the "infection fighters," who follow virus suppression behaviours carefully. About half of Canadians — 47 per cent — fall into this category, the poll suggests.

Then there are the "inconsistents," those who take a more half-in, half-out approach to adhering to the precautions. About 36 per cent of Canadians fall into this group, the poll finds.

More than nine in 10 infection fighters are regularly wearing a mask when in contact with non-family members indoors. That drops to 63 per cent among the inconsistents and to 15 per cent among cynical spreaders. 

In Alberta, a far greater percentage of the population falls into the cynical spreader segment, based on their own self-reported behaviours, Angus Reid said it's about 28 per cent, or three out of every 10 residents.

That contrasts with about 18 per cent who would be called cynical spreaders in B.C. or Quebec and only 12 per cent in Ontario.

"These folks are really not participating in a lot of behaviours that public health officials tell us are important for the prevention of community transmission," Shachi Kurl, the Angus Reid Institute's executive director, told CBC's Calgary Eyeopener.

Only 37 per cent of Albertans fell into the "infection fighter" group and 35 per cent into the "inconsistents," the poll found.

The poll, released earlier in the week, comes as Alberta struggles with a stubbornly high rate of COVID-19 cases by population compared with neighbouring provinces.

In recent days, Alberta — with a population of about 4.4 million — has often had more active cases than Ontario, with a population of 14.6 million.

This week, the entire city of Edmonton was placed under a COVID-19 watch, with 55.9 cases for every 100,000 people. More than half the active cases in the province were in the Edmonton zone as of Wednesday — 631 out of a provincial total of 1,107.

In the Angus-Reid poll, other factors were found apart from where people lived.

Age was considered one of the most significant factors for COVID-19 compliance with younger Canadians on the whole less likely to follow recommended protocols, the poll found.

Nationwide, cynical spreaders make up about 18 per cent of the population and skew younger, the poll suggests. (Angus Reid)

"There's also a bit of an ideological divide," Kurl said. 

Past Conservative voters are four times more likely to be cynical spreaders than those who voted for the Liberal Party or New Democratic Party in 2019, the poll said.

Education levels are also a factor.

The higher educated respondents are, the more likely they are to be infection fighters. Twenty one per cent of those with only high school or less schooling are cynical spreaders, while only nine per cent of university educated respondents are in this group.

The Angus Reid Institute conducted its online survey from Aug. 5 to 8 among a representative randomized sample of 1,511 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The sample size in Alberta was 149.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.


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