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. 

In terms of disruption to daily life, 30 percent of respondents expect that change to last for two to four months, while 17 percent think it will last more than four months. 

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.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

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.