He stressed that mask use is just one of many “layers” of protection against COVID-19, and said socializing in low-risk scenarios like virtual households can be done safely without masking up.
Shahab acknowledged that masking up “does not come naturally for most,” and that making usage a habit takes time.
However, he added that scientific evidence does support their effectiveness.
“No-one likes to be asked to do something that they’re not used to, but at the same time the evidence is clear that this simple action can make a dramatic difference. I think we really have to think about this.”
Jurisdictions around the world have implemented mask use policies since the onset of the pandemic.
So why, as the 2,600 member “No Mask Saskatchewan” Facebook page suggests, are so many people against wearing them?
“A lot of the narrative you find with these groups is not just ‘this is what we believe. Masks don’t work’, but also ‘you shouldn’t listen to anyone else,'” Pennycook said. “So, if you take that seriously then you’re not going to hear other perspectives and you end up with some pretty strong beliefs that are contrary to what scientists say.”
Pennycook says people often don’t put enough importance on the source of the information they’re consuming and says channels of inaccurate information can quickly become “echo chambers.”
“We’ve done experiments where we just literally remove the source from posts and it basically has no impact on people’s judgement,” Pennycook said. “People find themselves in that context where they’re seeing a lot of stuff from bad sources. They aren’t paying attention to the source that much and they kind of take that for what it is.”
The Saskatchewan Facebook group, for example, sees dozens of posts a day.
Some compare mask mandates to slavery. Others falsely cite negative health impacts.
“The entrenched people are the most salient, they draw a lot of our attention,” said Pennycook. “It creates a market for hearing something different. Like ‘why is nobody talking about this? It seems like everybody’s a sheep except for me and these people I’m talking to.’ And then it snowballs into this conspiratorial mindset.”
Adding to Dr. Shahab’s advice Thursday, Premier Scott Moe said there are other options for those dead-set against wearing masks.
“If you don’t want to wear a mask, that’s fine, but you should stay two metres apart from people.”
Shahab and Moe also fielded questions about a fine recently handed out after a party in Saskatoon violated public health orders.
When asked whether a prolonged period of low active cases in Saskatchewan could lead to an easing of restrictions in Saskatchewan, Dr. Shahab said it could be an option.
“If our community transmission remains low I think it’s worth considering what other opportunities can be offered in a safe manner.”