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Americans Less Amenable to Another COVID-19 Lockdown

Americans Less Amenable to Another COVID-19 Lockdown

Story Highlights

  • Fewer Americans now than in spring would shelter in place for a month
  • Two-thirds consider it likely their area will experience a virus surge
  • Most feel reasonably confident they can protect self from infection

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- About half of Americans in Gallup's latest polling on the COVID-19 pandemic, 49%, say they would be very likely to stay home for a month if public health officials recommended it due to a serious outbreak of the virus in their community. This contrasts with solid majorities in the spring who said they were likely to comply with such shelter-in-place advice, including a high of 67% in late March/early April.

Line graph. Trend since March 2020 in likelihood Americans would stay home for a month because of serious outbreak of coronavirus in their community. The percentage very likely was 40% in March, rose to 67% in April and is 49% in October.

Another 18% of Americans say they would be somewhat likely to follow public health officials' advice to stay home for a month, bringing the total inclined to comply to the majority level. But a full third say they would be very or somewhat unlikely to comply, about double the rate seen in the spring.

Most of the decline in Americans' willingness to follow shelter-in-place advice is due to a sharp drop among Republicans -- falling to 40% in Gallup's latest polling, from 74% in the spring. Democrats' willingness to stay at home has remained high, at 87% today versus 91% in March and April.

The latest data are from Gallup's Oct. 19-Nov. 1 probability-based panel survey tracking Americans' attitudes and behaviors related to the pandemic. The online Gallup Panel survey encompassed a period of rising COVID-19 cases across the country, with 31 states experiencing their highest one-day new infection rates thus far.

Relatively few Americans (29%) during this period thought their own area was "very likely" to experience a surge of coronavirus cases in the coming weeks, while another 40% considered it somewhat likely.

One significant change since April that may explain why Americans are now less likely to say they would go into home lockdown is that they have greater confidence in their ability to protect themselves from being infected by the coronavirus when out in public.

The percentage feeling very or somewhat confident in their ability to avoid infection rose from 68% in mid-April to 82% in June and has since remained at that level.

Line graph. Trend since March 2020 in Americans confidence they can protect themselves from the coronavirus when out in public. Percentage very or somewhat confident rose from 64% in March to 82% in June and remains at that level in October.

Mask-wearing likely has something to do with this increase in confidence, as the CDC reversed itself in early April and began to advise average Americans to wear face coverings to prevent the spread of infection. It took about a month for many Americans to adopt the practice, rising from 51% in mid-April to 80% in early May. The percentage inched up to 90% by July and has since remained near that level.

Line graph. Percentage of Americans saying they have worn a face mask in past seven days rose from 51% in April to 83% in May and exceeded 90% in July. Latest result is 88% in October.

Americans Still Favor Caution in Going Out

In line with the 67% of Americans saying they would be very or somewhat likely to comply with a 30-day shelter-in-place advisory, a majority of Americans continue to say the better advice for healthy people at this time is to stay home as much as possible to avoid catching or spreading the virus.

The 64% who currently say so is consistent with levels recorded since August, although down from high points in the spring and in July, the last time cases surged nationally.

Line graph. Trend in percentage of Americans who believe the better advice for healthy people is to stay home as much as possible to help prevent spread of the coronavirus rather than lead their normal lives as much as possible. Percentage favoring staying home has declined from 87% in March 2020 to 64% in September and October.

Sharp Uptick in Views That the Situation Is Getting Worse

Americans' reduced willingness today to shelter in place does not reflect a lack of concern about the pandemic. Sixty-one percent of U.S. adults -- versus 40% in mid-April -- currently perceive that the U.S. coronavirus situation is worsening. And after much variation in Americans' outlook since then, the latest percentage saying it is worsening is up 19 percentage points from September.

Line graph. Trend since April 2020 in Americans' perception of whether the coronavirus situation is getting better or getting worse. Percentage saying it is getting worse has varied widely during the year from a high of 73% in July to a low of 31% in June. It rose from 42% in September to 61% in October.

Americans' worry about themselves or a family member contracting the virus has varied less over the course of the pandemic, but the current 56% who are very or somewhat worried is near the high end of the range. This is similar to the levels recorded in April and up from 49% in September.

Line graph. Trend in percentage of Americans very or somewhat worried that they are a family member will be exposed to the coronavirus. Figure has varied from a low of 46% in May 2020 to a high of 59% in August. It rose from 49% in September to 56% in October.

Social Distancing Behaviors Remain at Lower Levels

Still, fewer Americans are engaging in extreme social distancing than were in the spring, with levels since September being the lowest to date.

Thirty-eight percent of Americans currently say they are completely or mostly isolating themselves from non-household members. While well below the high of 75% recorded in late March/early April, the latest figure matches the 39% recorded in September and is down only slightly from the average of 42% in August.

Meanwhile, 27% in the latest reading said they are partially isolating -- having some contact with others -- while 35% are isolating only a little or making no attempt to do so.

Line graph. Trend in Americans self-report of how much they are isolating themselves from non-household members. The percentage completely or mostly isolated gradually fell from a high of 75% in late March 2020 to 40% in mid-June. It has since dipped below 40%, registering 38% in October

Similarly, the percentages of Americans reporting they are avoiding public places (53%) and small social gatherings (47%) are down from late March and April, when roughly eight in 10 reported avoiding these things. However, after declining in May and June, the percentages have leveled off near 50%.

Bottom Line

Amid surging COVID-19 cases nationally, Americans are increasingly likely to perceive that the coronavirus situation is getting worse. But their concern about personally getting the virus has not increased at the same pace, and they are far less willing to comply with shelter-in-place advice today than they were in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic this spring.

Americans are still practicing social distancing, just not as much as they once did -- particularly in terms of avoiding small gatherings such as with friends and family. Although prior Gallup research has shown variations in the extent to which Americans don masks in different settings, most say they have used them at least sometime during the past week. Simply knowing they have an effective tool at their disposal to protect themselves may be enough to make some Americans feel safe going about their lives in some fashion, even if they are not using masks all the time or in all situations.

Given these dynamics, voluntary -- or possibly even mandatory -- 30-day lockdowns, should public health officials around the country recommend them, may not be as effective at keeping people home as they were at the start of the pandemic.

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