Most Canadians are still exceedingly cautious when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic — in favour of mandatory mask laws, concerned about their personal susceptibility to the virus, willing to lock the country down again if cases spike and leaning toward a mix of in-class and at-home learning for children in the fall.
This might come as a surprise to many.
New cases of COVID-19 have fallen significantly in Canada, though there has been a small uptick in recent days in some parts of the country. With the virus raging unchecked in the United States, governments on this side of the border have been loosening restrictions. In Ontario, most of the province entered Stage 3 today, which allows most businesses to re-open with health measures in place.
Many have expressed alarm over crowded parks and beaches. An outbreak in cases related to bars in Quebec has resulted in 'last call' being moved up earlier to midnight, and a prohibition on dancing.
It might give the impression that Canadians are letting their guards down. But polls don't suggest that's the case.
Both Léger (in a poll for the Association for Canadian Studies) and the Angus Reid Institute have found that 59 per cent of Canadians reported being concerned about or afraid of personally contracting COVID-19. That's the highest level since April, when Canada was at the peak of its first wave.
Reports of people unwilling to wear masks are widespread — but they represent a minority view. Léger found that two-thirds of Canadians think governments should make wearing masks mandatory in all indoor public spaces. Cities like Ottawa and Toronto already have imposed such mask rules, and masks become mandatory in indoor public spaces throughout Quebec on Saturday.
Despite concerns expressed by some business groups about their impact on the local economy, an Ipsos/Global News poll found that 79 per cent of Canadians strongly or somewhat support local municipalities imposing mandatory mask-wearing rules. According to an Abacus Data poll, 86 per cent of respondents would support — or at least "go along with" — mandatory mask orders.
Support for new lockdown in a second wave
With new cases surging in places like the United States, Brazil and India — and as other countries, such as Israel, are experiencing second waves of the virus that are bigger than the first ones — polls show the vast majority of Canadians expect to see a second wave in this country in the future.
Such a second wave could hit the Canadian economy very hard due to people staying home and spending less — even if governments don't impose a second lockdown.
This has led to calls for governments to avoid imposing a second lockdown. Last week, a number of health experts signed an open letter calling on the federal and provincial governments to take a "balanced response" to fighting the pandemic, while the Business Council of Canada put out a statement after the federal government's recent fiscal update making the case that "Canadians simply cannot afford another shutdown."
That doesn't mean Canadians aren't willing to live through another one, however. Two recent surveys show wide support for the re-imposition of a lockdown if cases spike again.
A Nanos Research/CTV News survey found that 70 per cent of Canadians support, or somewhat support, requiring non-essential businesses to close again if there's a significant increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Ipsos put support for the idea even higher than that — at 83 per cent.
Polls suggest Ontarians back a hybrid approach to classes
But the impact of a second wave in the fall could fall especially hard on schools across the country, most of which have been shuttered since the spring. Parents have been struggling to juggle both work and child care. Women in particular have been hit harder by the economic effects of the downturn and have been taking on the lion's share of child care responsibilities.
Disrupting the school year also has a significant impact on the education and mental health of children.
It all explains the growing number of calls for provinces like Ontario to have a plan for a full-time return to classes in the fall — not only from parents and educators but from some economists and health experts as well.
WATCH | 2 Ontario teachers talk about navigating school during the COVID-19 pandemic
The Toronto District School Board said that anything but a full return to classes in the fall "will force parents to choose between educating their children and their own employment."
However, two recent polls suggest views in Ontario are not so cut-and-dried.
Last month, the Ontario government put forward three scenarios for a return to classes in the fall: virtual learning only, in-class learning only or a mix of the two. A hybrid system would still impose significant child care burdens on parents and limit their ability to either return to their workplaces or to work remotely.
But a poll conducted by Nanos Research at the end of June and commissioned by the Ontario Public School Boards' Association found that — despite 86 per cent of Ontarians expressing concerns about students' mental health — just 52 per cent were comfortable or somewhat comfortable with a return to school in September. Men were more comfortable with the idea than women.
The poll found 72 per cent of respondents with two or more children in public school supported or somewhat supported a mixed model of education delivery; that figure increased to 76 per cent among parents with just one child in public school. On this question, there was no significant difference between the genders.
A survey by Campaign Research for the Toronto Star corroborated these findings. Conducted last week, the poll found 53 per cent of Ontario parents support the hybrid model, with 11 per cent supporting online-only. Just 23 per cent supported in-class-only learning.
It all serves to show how millions of Canadians are experiencing the pandemic in millions of different ways, making their individual assessments of the risks posed by COVID-19.
For many Canadians, the self-isolation and the changes to our way of life have been difficult to handle — but a majority remain concerned about the disease, support wearing masks in public spaces and are going about their daily lives with caution. Too many Canadians are struggling with child care and paying the bills. But most would still re-impose another shutdown if it means keeping COVID-19 at bay.
It poses a challenge to governments and policy-makers who have to decide how to balance the concerns of a worried majority with the need to help those who need help the most — a challenge that will get all the more complicated if Canada does not avoid a second wave.