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BEHIND THE NUMBERS: Should masks be mandatory in public places?

Margaret Chapman and Margaret Brigley.
Margaret Chapman and Margaret Brigley. - Contributed

Margaret Chapman and Margaret Brigley


This is the first of our ‘Behind the Numbers’ columns, and we’re excited about the launch. We’re passionate about conducting research and then uncovering the story behind data. And that’s the intent with this column. Once a month, we’ll be digging into a key topic, talking about the data, but more importantly, looking at what those numbers mean for us as individuals and for our businesses.

Across the country, provincial governments have taken different approaches to advice on wearing masks to limit the spread of COVID-19. In Quebec and parts of Ontario, they recently ordered that masks be worn in indoor public places, while in other provinces, it’s a public health recommendation or guideline.

We wanted to understand how the public felt about this, so we asked more than 1,000 Canadian residents for their opinions. The results are clear – there is widespread support for making the wearing masks mandatory in public places, including half who completely support such measures. What’s interesting is that the level of support drops off somewhat from West to East – those in BC (80 per cent support), the Prairies (80), Ontario (a whopping 90 per cent) and Quebec (79) are more likely to support this type of regulation compared with those in Atlantic Canada (74 per cent). Undoubtedly, this is related to the relatively low number of cases in our region and the perceived lower threat level.

Across demographics, support for wearing masks is consistent, regardless of education level, income, gender or age. However, an intriguing insight is that people who are employed either part or full time are much more likely to support mandatory wearing of masks, when compared with those who are self-employed or unemployed. This tells us that people who are in regular contact with others outside their bubble, particularly when at work, are more likely to want the peace of mind that can come with wearing masks when social distancing can’t be maintained.

Earlier in the pandemic when we asked Atlantic Canadians if they had worn a protective mask when out in public, only half said they had, even at the height of the outbreak. This is likely due to the changing guidelines and evidence we’ve seen. At first, cloth masks were not seen to be effective, while now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that people wear cloth face coverings in public. Compliance with mandatory orders has not proven to be 100 per cent in those jurisdictions where it has been implemented, but as we’re learning more and more about the transmission of the virus, undoubtedly, we will better understand the importance of wearing masks, and when it’s beneficial.

So what can businesses do?

Given the widespread support for mandatory mask wearing, and the growing evidence that it can be an effective way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, it seems prudent for any business to ask employees and/or customers to wear a mask, or have masks on hand for employees and customers when social distancing is difficult to maintain indoors. This will help provide a greater level of comfort for those feeling their way in this “new normal”. It’s important as well to recognize that individuals have differing levels of comfort with going out in public, with coming back into a workplace, and interacting with people who aren’t in their bubble. And luckily, there are lots of cost-effective and local options for purchasing masks in the region. Check out listings of local PPE suppliers where you live.


Margaret Brigley, CEO, and Margaret Chapman, COO, are business partners at Narrative Research, a national market research company based in Halifax. Their passion is digging into data to uncover insights. Results presented here are from a national online study of 1,230 Canadian residents, conducted between July 9 and 11 in partnership with the Logit Group.

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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