While most Manitobans have settled into the current set of pandemic restrictions, a recent poll shows nearly as many are less comfortable with a potential outdoor mask mandate.
A recent survey of 1,000 Manitobans by research firm Prairie Research Associates found while 82 per cent of those polled are on board with wearing face coverings in indoor public spaces, just 18 per cent feel the same way about the possibility of a mask mandate in outdoor public spaces.
While 38 per cent of those polled strongly opposed the idea — floated by the province amidst the third wave — 25 per cent were only supportive in certain situations, and 20 per cent held a neutral opinion.
In April, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Manitoba was mulling a possible mandate to combat rising COVID-19 case counts.
The previous year of messaging, that being outside was a safe alternative to gathering indoors, might be spurring the divide, Prairie Research partner Nicholas Borodenko said Thursday.
"For a long time, I think that the message from various levels of government was that being outdoors is safe, plus I think a lot of the public health orders sort of support that idea… and I'm not sure that the messaging around the variants and it being more susceptible to transmission outdoors is resonating with people," he said.
Those in Winnipeg and outside the capital feel similarly in terms of strong support for the idea — 19 per cent in the city, 15 per cent beyond the Perimeter Highway — with those outside the city much less likely to hold a middle-ground view on the idea.
While 17 per cent in Winnipeg were strongly against an outdoor mask mandate, 32 per cent of those polled outside the city said the same.
Borodenko said he wasn’t surprised by the split, noting rural Manitobans often have a lot more public outdoor space to spread out in. While it might make more sense to mask up while navigating a busy Winnipeg sidewalk, it may seem less sensical if your closest neighbour is a ways down the road.
"I grew up in rural Manitoba, (and I think of) me being on my gravel road on my bike, or where the next home was a quarter of a mile away," he said. "Do I need my mask outside? I think it's a difference, rural Manitoba is a very large place. And so that's probably a lot to do with what the opposition is."
Steinbach resident and pastor Kyle Penner said he wouldn’t be surprised if some in his community, and in more rural areas, would be more opposed to an outdoor mask mandate, noting both the physical distance between some people and historical pushback to government intervention.
"There's just a certain level of acceptance of government involvement in (Winnipeggers’) lives," he said. "And rural folk are hesitant about that, because we just live more independently."
The poll of 1,000 adult Manitobans was conducted April 13-16. It was not collected through a probability sample of Manitobans, but if it had, its margin of error would be within plus or minus 3.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.