Poll shows Mass. residents bracing for crisis to worsen
Nearly half think disruption will last 2 months or longer
MASSACHUSETTS RESIDENTS overwhelmingly view the coronavirus outbreak as a serious and worsening threat, with many bracing for an extended disruption of their daily lives, according to the first poll to examine how state residents are reacting to the global pandemic.
Eighty-eight percent of state residents view the crisis as either a “very serious” (58 percent) or “somewhat serious” (30 percent) threat to Massachusetts residents, with 66 percent saying the threat is becoming more serious, according to the survey by the MassINC Polling Group and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
The findings are the first report from an ongoing tracking poll Massachusetts residents’ attitudes toward the coronavirus crisis launched by MassINC Polling Group in conjunction with Blue Cross Blue Shield, which is underwriting the polling.
The survey was based on interviews with 603 Massachusetts residents over a four-day period beginning last Monday, March 16.
Residents have overwhelmingly adjusted their socializing practices and shopping habits, but 13 percent of respondents said they still greeted people with hugs or handshakes and similar share — 14 percent — said they have not changed their handwashing practices. A small share of respondents, 6 percent, said they are still “seeing or visiting many people.”
“Staying away from other people may be a sacrifice and it may be hard, but it’s also the kindest possible thing people can do right now,” said Dr. Katherine Dallow, vice president of clinical programs and strategy at Blue Cross. “Continued emphasis on social distancing, frequent handwashing, and staying home when travel is not essential and especially when sick is critical.”
Public health experts and elected officials have voiced concern that younger people are not taking the coronavirus threat seriously, with warnings that the failure of young people to adjust their behavior is putting them at increased risk and increasing the risk that they will transmit it to others, including those at high risk for serious consequences from infection. The survey suggests, however, that Massachusetts residents of all ages are adjusting their behavior. More than 85 percent of those in all age groups say they are washing their hands more often than usual and avoiding hugs, handshakes, and other sorts of physical greetings.
Despite broad adoption of risk-reducing behavior, residents do have a clear age-related degree of concern for their own risk. Among those aged 18-29, only 22 percent view the coronavirus as a “very serious” threat to them personally, a figure that rises to 51 percent among those aged 60 and older. Nearly every respondent (96 percent) viewed the virus as a somewhat serious or very serious threat to elderly residents.
The crisis has already displaced thousands of workers from jobs, and unemployment figures are certain to get much worse. Lots of the early job losses have been in the service sector — among restaurant, bar, and hotel workers — and a divide is already clear in the ability of employees to work remotely, with salaried workers much more able to adjust to what is, at least for now, the new normal. While 67 percent of salaried workers say they have been able to do work from home, only 31 percent of hourly workers say they have been able to do so.Residents seem acutely aware of problems with coronavirus testing availability, with 67 percent saying there are not enough tests available for those who need them and only 17 percent saying there are.
Despite the economic upheaval that has resulted from things like the state-ordered shutdown of restaurants and bars, most residents approve of the official response to the pandemic, with 64 percent saying the response in their area has been “about right.” A further 23 percent said the response has not gone far enough, while at the other end of the spectrum only 10 percent said it has gone too far.