Report finds 55% of surveyed Sask. residents would support mandatory face mask policy
Despite majority support, anti-mandatory mask numbers are highest in Canada
The latest research from The Angus Reid Institute found that more than half of surveyed Saskatchewan residents support making face masks mandatory in public places as the pandemic continues.
While this response has the majority, the number of those surveyed that oppose it, 45 per cent, was the highest of any province in Canada.
In comparison, neighbouring Alberta was 60 per cent for mandatory masks and 40 per cent against.
"In most of the country it's actually quite an uncontroversial idea," said Dave Korzinski, research director at The Angus Reid Institute.
"[But] there is less of a sense that it is necessary in Saskatchewan."
Korzinksi said he believes this is because Saskatchewan has seen relatively lower case loads throughout the pandemic.
"I think that certainly people don't think that it's as necessary in the regions that haven't been as hard hit. When you look at somewhere like Ontario where it has seen quite an outbreak and they've had a very difficult time getting it controlled, the support level is up to 79 per cent there," he said.
To date, Saskatchewan has had 936 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Alberta has had more than 9,000 and Ontario has had more than 37,000.
Saskatchewan is currently experiencing an increase in the rate of new cases. The province reported 13 new cases of COVID-19 Friday. This came after a one-day record-high number of 42 new cases Thursday, 31 of those in the south.
Korzinski said he understands why some in the province are opposed to mandatory mask policies.
"The number one reason that people say that they don't wear a mask is that they do their own social distancing. They don't think that it's really necessary because they're taking it into their own hands and I think that's a little bit more understandable in some places."
Still, Korzinski said the movement to get mandatory masks indoors is gaining momentum across the country.
Despite the mixed reception for mandatory face masks, anxiety over COVID-19 is still widespread in the province. Of those surveyed in Saskatchewan, 54 per cent reported still being concerned that someone in their community would get sick from COVID-19.
As some jurisdictions in Canada — such as Ottawa and Toronto — make indoor mask use mandatory, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer said the province will not move toward that unless cases spike.
"We all need to have on hand a mask and be comfortable using it. At this point, that's a recommendation. But if we start seeing an increase in cases as you move indoors we'll have to see if that becomes a stronger recommendation or even mandatory," said Dr. Saqib Shahab.
Shahab said he follows the current recommendation, which asks people to wear a mask if they cannot ensure a two-metre distance.
He said the nature of the province's geography and the current number of known cases — many of which are linked to an outbreak in the southwest — do not necessitate a change in policy.
"At this point, I think just having it as a recommendation is good," Shahab said.
With files by Adam Hunter