The president of the Yorkton Chamber of Commerce is under fire for his public skepticism of masks and COVID-19.
Mike Stackhouse posted on his blog and social media criticizing the effectiveness of masks, and has characterized government pandemic responses as over-reactions.
His comments come as Yorkton Regional High School closed its doors and moved to remote learning until at least Oct. 19 after the Saskatchewan Health Authority announced an outbreak. Four people in the school have tested positive for COVID-19.
The SHA has also declared outbreaks at Pumphouse Athletic Club and Yorkton Regional Health Centre. The Yorkton RCMP announced their office will be restricting non-essential services after a member tested positive.
Saskatoon health policy consultant Dr. Denis Kendel called Stackouse's views inaccurate and divisive. He said it's particularly troubling that this is coming from a community leader.
"A responsible citizen should not unnecessarily put other people at risk," Kendel said.
Stackhouse says he's not anti-mask
In a post Monday to his blog, Stackhouse Soapbox, he said he is not anti-mask.
"I'm an advocate of choice," he wrote.
Stackhouse said he won't go to a grocery store or business which requires masks, and a mandatory mask policy will drive people to shop online. "While I still have the ability to choose, I'm going to shop at the ones that do not require me to wear one," he wrote.
He said masks are appropriate at concerts, sports events or public transit. He said it would be "courteous" to wear one around vulnerable people.
"However, I also think if you are a vulnerable person you also have to be responsible for yourself and not rely on strangers to do it for you," Stackhouse wrote.
Stackhouse was not available for comment Monday morning, but the owner of the business where Stackhouse works is distancing himself from the comments.
"These opinions are not the opinions of Source Embroidery or its staff." owner Kirk Weinmaster said in an interview Monday.
The Yorkton Chamber of Commerce board issued a statement Monday afternoon.
"The statements made by Mr. Stackhouse appeared on his personal social media accounts, not those of the Chamber. The personal comments and views of Mr. Stackhouse are not those of the Yorkton Chamber of Commerce."
Kendel said it's unclear why Stackhouse has these views, but he notes many COVID-19 skeptics are influenced by the toxic political tone on social media, particularly in the U.S.
"There's this imperative for personal freedom and 'nobody's gonna tell me what to do.' Well, they're welcome to stay in their home and not wear a mask. When you go out, you put other people at risk," Kendel said.
"Mask wearing... enables us to protect each other. You don't do it for yourself. That would seem to be a very wise thing, particularly in Yorkton right now."
History of social media comments
Stackhouse posted on social media criticizing COVID-19 rules, including a Twitter message earlier this month about how "masks didn't work" in Israel.
In March, shortly after the first provincial and national restrictions were announced, he wrote a blog published on Yorkton This Week's website. He began by saying he's "under-educated on the coronavirus.
"I can't figure out what all the hysteria is all about... it all seems like such an over-reaction to me."
Stackhouse called the restrictions "madness" and "craziness," and opposed any restrictions on shaking hands.
Kendel said Chamber officials will have to have a conversation with Stackhouse and decide whether he can continue to lead the organization.