How Canadians and Americans are responding differently to wearing face masks
TORONTO -- Canadians are more likely than Americans to praise their government's handling of COVID-19 and keep their hands to themselves in public, but less likely to wear masks when out of the house, according to recent polling data.
Since the early days of the pandemic, British polling firm YouGov has been surveying people in 29 countries online about their attitudes toward the novel coronavirus and the behaviours they are changing in response to it.
Canadians have been surveyed five times, with more than 1,000 respondents each time, in what YouGov says are nationally representative samples.
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The responses show clear differences in the interpretation of the threats posed by the pandemic in Canada versus other parts of the world, including our closest neighbours in the United States.
UNMASKED AND WORKING FROM HOME
Nearly three in five Canadians – 58 per cent – reported as of June 11 that they were regularly wearing face masks when out in public.
This was one of the lower rates of face-mask usage, as only six of the 25 other countries surveyed reported less take-up of the masks: the United Kingdom (31 per cent), Australia (21 per cent) and the four surveyed Scandinavian nations, with Denmark at the very bottom at three per cent.
Even Americans reported being more likely to wear masks in public than Canadians. Since June 11, the American mask-wearing rate has risen from slightly above two-thirds to 71 per cent.
The highest levels of face-mask use were found in Asian nations, led by Singapore at 92 per cent, followed by countries in the Middle East and European nations where the virus hit early in the pandemic, such as Italy and Spain.
The geographic divide is largely similar when it comes to working from home or finding other ways to avoid physically travelling to a workplace during the pandemic.
Respondents in Middle Eastern and Asian nations were the most likely to report staying away from workplaces, with the Philippines leading the way at 55 per cent.
For most of the pandemic, there has been a significant gap between Canada and the U.S., with Canadians more likely than Americans to say they have been working remotely. That gap has nearly been erased more recently, as Canadians are increasingly returning to their offices.
On June 11, 23 per cent of Canadian respondents reported that they were still avoiding their workplace, while the American rate stood at 19 per cent.
CANADIANS MORE HYGENIC
Most respondents from all surveyed countries say, during the pandemic, they have been taking steps to improve their personal hygiene, such as washing their hands more frequently.
However, American and British respondents were among the last to come around to making these changes, and both remain well behind Canadians in doing so.
More than 70 per cent of Canadians reported improved personal hygiene habits on June 11, the last date for which data is available, while the most recent comparable American number is 60 per cent.
Canadians also report being more likely than Americans to have stopped directly touching elevator buttons and other objects in public places.
At one point in late April, Canadians had the highest rate of this in the world, with 75 per cent of respondents saying they had stopped touching these objects.
That number has slipped since then, most recently clocking in at 62 per cent on June 11 – but is still well above the American mark of 46 per cent.
Canadians are also more likely than Americans to say they are avoiding crowded places during the pandemic. Seventy-six per cent of Canadians said this on June 11, while 63 per cent of Americans said the same on June 22.
Respondents in most surveyed countries have seen ebbs and flows in support for their governments' handling of the pandemic.
In the U.K., for example, support for the government's response peaked at 72 per cent in late March but now sits at a much lower 44 per cent.
Canada is an outlier, with high support for the government response – the poll does not distinguish between federal and provincial governments – consistently at 75 to 80 per cent since late March.
As of June 30, 80 per cent of Canadians reported thinking their government has handled the pandemic very or somewhat well.
Americans' support for their government's pandemic response has been slowly and steadily declining during the same time period, falling from 53 per cent to 38 per cent.
Perhaps for similar reasons, Canadians are much more likely than Americans to say that they think the coronavirus situation is getting better in their country.
The Canadian number for this question has been rising slowly since mid-May and sat at 76 per cent as of June 30. The American number topped out at 53 per cent shortly before virus activity significantly ramped up in several highly-populated southern states, and was down to 26 per cent by June 30.
The American number is one of the lowest recorded anywhere in the world, in the same range as the responses from Mexico, India and the Philippines.
Canadians are more pessimistic than Americans, however, when it comes to the global fight against COVID-19.
From June 8 to June 30 – as it became clear that the escalating case numbers in the U.S. were more of a trend than an aberration – the rate of Canadians respondents saying the coronavirus situation is improving globally fell from 58 per cent to 33 per cent, while the American rate slid from 54 per cent to 44 per cent.