As we gawk at the absolutely shambolic response to COVID-19 south of the border, we Canadians smugly assume it’s largely because the Americans are locked in a culture war over wearing masks while – aside from a few yahoos – we wear them with pride.
Yeah, about that…
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.
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.
Americans who believe masks contain secret 5G antennae get all the media attention, but overall, our Yankee cousins have adopted mask-wearing at least as well as we have.
(An aside: can you imagine how awesome it would be if your mask really did have a 5G antenna? Cell phone reception would be great!)
So why is coronavirus spreading so quickly in the United States while Canada has kept its numbers low? Likely because Americans didn’t really take to masks until after it was too late. Texas made masks mandatory in early July, but by then its COVID-19 numbers were already skyrocketing.
Here in Halifax, most of the people I see in stores and on the bus or ferry aren’t wearing masks. (Halifax Transit is making them mandatory starting this Friday.) Even at Costco, where they’re handing out masks at the door, most shoppers don’t seem to be wearing them.
Our numbers have remained very low in recent weeks, but there are signs that COVID-19 is coming back in other provinces, especially Quebec and Alberta. It seems like only a matter of time before it re-emerges in Nova Scotia, and if people wait until then to mask up, it’s already too late.
Will COVID-19 get as bad here as it did in the United States? It’s unlikely – a universal health care system, less political polarization and a more sparsely distributed population should spare us that fate. But it doesn’t have to get as bad as it is in America to still be really, really bad.