Coronavirus: University of Alberta study finds growing public support for face masks

As Edmontonians continue to navigate the new normal, a local study suggests that more Canadians are embracing the use of face masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

While that may be true for some, others aren’t comfortable following public health guidance.

“No, I don’t like wearing it at all,” said Jeff Johnson, who was making a stop at downtown Edmonton’s farmers market on Sunday.

“I don’t think anybody really likes wearing the mask. I don’t but I do just because that’s the thing to do,” said Heather Moes, who was also shopping at the market.

Read more: Face masks continue to be ‘strongly recommended,’ not mandatory in Edmonton

Health officials, including Alberta’s top doctor, have said masks slow the spread of COVID-19 and more places are making them mandatory.

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“It’s become a symbol of your ideology around how to deal with the pandemic,” said Timothy Caufield, a University of Alberta professor of health law and science policy.

Read more: Mask myths, debunked: No, wearing a mask won’t ‘shut down’ your immune system

But are Canadians fully embracing this shift? Or is there an underlying stigma about wearing one?

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“I don’t really feel the need to wear one, to be honest,” said Chad McInnis, who was also visiting the market.

“I don’t really think too much about it. It’s more for my own peace of mind and I feel that the more people wear it, there’s going to be less stigma or negative connotation to it,” shopper Ryan Jayatunge said.

To find out more, a U of A study was conducted by Dr. Heather Young-Leslie and PhD candidate Doris Zhang.

“We noted a shift in Canadians’ support for the public use of face masks since the start of the pandemic,” said Zhang.

Read more: Edmonton women raise nearly $20,000 for charity by sewing masks during COVID-19 pandemic

Zhang said making that change didn’t come right away.

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“Initially, people believed that masks provided a false sense of security and they should be reserved for front-line medical workers. And now, public use of face masks became much more prevalent in Canada,” Zhang explained.

She said mask use was already more common in other cultures.

“Any Asian country, if you’re feeling sick and you’re going out, you usually wear a mask. It’s not as uncommon in Asian countries, whereas here before COVID, it was definitely a bit awkward for sure,” shopper Caren Hui said.

“I really think it’s a cultural thing, we’re not used to wearing masks and I think that with the proper public health messaging, we can change it,” Caulfield said.

Read more: Could masks become mandatory in Calgary? Mayor isn’t ruling it out

The study backs that up, finding there is a need for better education on proper use, and mask maintenance and reusability.

The study is a part of a bigger research project, which is funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research and led by Dr. Kim Noels at the U of A.

Further research on this subject is ongoing and researchers are welcoming participants for more feedback. More information can be found here.

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