By early Sunday afternoon, two-thirds of almost 2,300 people responding to a poll by town councillor Morgan Nagel want to maintain the right to choose whether or not to wear a face mask. By Sunday night, that number had climbed to 3,300 with the same split.
In preparation for a special town council meeting on the question of whether the town should make the use of face masks mandatory in indoor public spaces, Nagel created the poll Friday afternoon without any form of paid advertisement. He also included an extensive post on why he believes they should remain voluntary.
Nagel is shocked by the number of people who have responded. He has conducted polls in the past, and says this is by far one of the largest responses he has ever received.
"You can see them; they're all Facebook accounts, they're all real people."
Nagel isn't opposed to wearing face masks and does so when he's in public.
Yet he says we're sliding down a slippery slope of further diluting personal freedoms. He believes they have been faltering ever since the attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001.
"To me, the dramatic shift away from democratic debate, coupled with a lack of respect for the fundamental principle that you should be able to choose how you live and what you do is creating a very disturbing precedence for me."
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, he says there has been no public consultation and little with elected officials.
"We are just making knee-jerk reaction decisions to deal with our immediate concerns today, not really starting to ask if we are setting a good precedence. I think it has been a terrible precedence."
He has been reviewing the comments received from his poll and post and has been reflecting on why there has been such a large response.
"It tells me that there's a large number of people who want to have their say on the global pandemic response. I really think the big part of it is pent up frustration where people feel their voices aren't being heard."
Nagel says this isn't an attack upon how the town is approaching the pandemic.
"It's really not an insult to our mayor or administration in Cochrane. I really do feel they have been doing the best job that they can, given the situation, but I have felt that debate and diverse opinions on how to handle things have been very stifled. That's not just in Cochrane. that's everywhere."
He admits it has been a stressful few days since the launch Friday afternoon.
"I decided with the mask thing forward, that I had just had enough. I'm just going to be totally honest and tell people how I feel about the situation, knowing, of course, that it has been pretty controversial."
He says those favouring mandatory masks have generally called others selfish and short-sighted.
Some in opposition have questioned if the masks actually help.
"Even if they aren't very effective, we may as well take the small minor step and wear them. I do support people wearing masks, especially when they are in crowded indoor areas."
Other town councillors are conducting polls to gauge public opinion on what appears to be a polarizing issue in the community. It is expected they'll share their results during the council debate on July 29.
The special town council meeting starts at 10:30 on July 29.