Nova Scotians split on lifting mask mandate, survey suggests


A majority of Nova Scotians are supportive of the easing of provincial COVID-19 restrictions next week, but they’re divided on whether masks should still be mandatory in public places, a new survey says.

Nova Scotia will lift all remaining COVID-19 restrictions on March 21, just a day shy of the two-year anniversary of the province declaring a state of emergency to contain the pandemic. (CBC/Radio-Canada)

A majority of Nova Scotians support the easing of provincial COVID-19 restrictions next week, but they’re divided on whether masks should still be mandatory in public places, according to a new survey.

The Narrative Research survey suggests nearly three-quarters of Nova Scotians — 73 per cent — completely or mostly support the easing of restrictions overall, while 24 per cent mostly or completely oppose it.

When it comes to wearing masks, 48 per cent of people surveyed said they completely or mostly support the removal of the requirement, while 47 per cent are completely or mostly opposed.

“In general, younger residents are more supportive of the easing of restrictions compared with older residents,” the Halifax-based firm said in a press release.

“In addition, men are more likely to support the easing of restrictions compared with women.”

In late February, the Nova Scotia government announced that all restrictions related to COVID-19 would be lifted on Monday. 

Nova Scotia’s three-phase opening plan. (Nova Scotia government)

It was welcome news for Cara O’Leary, a 38-year-old woman who lives in the Windsor Junction area.

She said it’s been a long two years.

“It does kind of feel like we’ve, I don’t want to say reached the finish line … but we’ve reached some kind of milestone,” O’Leary said in an interview.

“Now we can, hopefully, ease a little bit into a new sense of normal and just begin to have a little more flexibility with what we can do and how we do it.”

O’Leary, who works in the education field creating online courses, said she intends to be cautious and may still wear her mask in certain situations such as larger crowds. 

But she said people should have a choice to wear a mask at this point in the pandemic.

She added that businesses and restaurants have suffered.

“The people that have been following the rules this whole time, it’s important for them to have the opportunity to do the things that they’ve been missing in the past couple of years,” she said.

‘COVID is not over’

But Kim Fry, who moved to Nova Scotia with her partner and five-year-old son from Toronto last June, believes restrictions are being eased too quickly.

Fry, who worked as a teacher in Ontario, said the rules should have been lifted incrementally, not all at once. 

She said the decision to fully lift restrictions on Monday feels political and not something based on science.

“The precautionary principle is a really important principle when it comes to anything to do with public health,” said the 46-year-old who lives in Halifax.

“COVID has taught us that we can’t exist in a world where we’re all making individual decisions. We have to act for the collective good, and we have to be thinking about who is most vulnerable and how do we protect them.

“To just pretend that it’s over, we’re all done, we’re just going to throw everything out the window, it just feels incredibly irresponsible.”

Fry said she also feels that masking has proved to be an effective tool in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and she’s puzzled by the decision to lift masking requirements, especially in schools.

“It seems crazy to me that it’s March break and kids are intermingling with people from other communities and they’re going on vacation and they’re all going to come back together on Monday,” she said.

“We’re not free. COVID is not over.”

Masks strongly recommended, but not mandatory

One of Nova Scotia’s foremost experts on infectious diseases and vaccines also recently questioned the province’s rationale for wanting to eliminate the mandatory mask requirement.

Dr. Lisa Barrett said she has yet to see evidence that making masks voluntary is a good idea, pointing to places in Europe that have lifted restrictions and seen case numbers increase.

A group of doctors making up a pediatric advisory group at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax recommended earlier this week that students continue to wear masks in school until at least mid-April. 

In an interview with CBC News on Thursday, Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, also strongly recommended people continue to wear masks in indoor places and on public transit.

He said the lifting of restrictions “doesn’t mean the pandemic is over, doesn’t mean that people should not still continue to do all those things.” 

“We’re still strongly recommending that people get vaccinated, stay home if you’re sick — strong recommendation that people continue to wear masks in indoor places, in workplaces and public places.

“Just because we aren’t saying you have to do it doesn’t mean that people should stop doing it.”

Much support for dropping vaccine mandates

The Narrative Research survey also suggests 61 per cent of Nova Scotians surveyed are completely or mostly supportive of the removal of proof-of-vaccination requirements, while 35 per cent are completely or mostly opposed.

It suggests the pace of easing restrictions has been about right for half the population (47 per cent), while a third of respondents say things are moving too quickly (34 per cent) and a small group thinks things are moving too slowly (14 per cent).

The survey was conducted from March 4 to 8 with 1,212 Nova Scotia residents from a Narrative Research online panel.

The firm said as a non-probability sample — a sample where residents have joined a panel to share their opinions — and in accordance with the Canadian Research Insights Council’s public opinion research standards, a margin of error was not applied. 

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