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Americans Getting Out More, but Cautiously

Americans Getting Out More, but Cautiously

Story Highlights

  • Less than a quarter of Americans now practicing strict social distancing
  • More than four in 10 still avoiding large crowds; 26% avoiding small gatherings
  • Visits to grocery stores, restaurants and pharmacies jumped in May

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With public fear about contracting the coronavirus way down in the wake of rising vaccinations, Americans are easing up on their social distancing and venturing out more to stores, restaurants, doctors' offices, pharmacies and salons.

Likewise, fewer now say they avoid going to public places, although about a third still do so. While mask-wearing is less prevalent than in April, the vast majority still report wearing a face covering when outside their home.

Fewer Than One in Four Practicing Strict Social Distancing

Less than a quarter of U.S. adults, 22%, now say they are completely or mostly isolating from non-household members. This figure, from Gallup's May 18-23 probability-based web panel survey, is down from 30% in April and 48% in January. Forty percent report still isolating partially or a little, while 38% -- easily the highest to date -- are making no attempt to isolate.

By contrast, fully three in four Americans in April 2020 said they were completely or mostly isolating, with only 3% not isolating at all.

Line graph. Trend from March 2020 to May 2021 in amount Americans say they are social distancing from people outside their household. The percentage isolating themselves completely or mostly was at its highest, 75%, in April 2020, then leveled off at 50% for the second half of 2020 and has recently fallen to 22%. Meanwhile, the percentage not making any attempt to isolate has increased from 3% last spring to 16% in January to 38% today.

This summary measure of Americans' social distancing behavior echoes a separate finding in Gallup's COVID-19 tracking survey that finds fewer Americans avoiding various social activities out of concern about the coronavirus.

There is still a long way to go until Americans are no longer refraining from normal activities due to concerns about the coronavirus, especially in terms of attending events with large crowds and traveling by air, bus or train. But the percentages avoiding places where people congregate are on their way down, and the lowest since March of last year.

  • 44% have avoided events with large crowds in the past week.
  • 40% have avoided traveling by airplane or public transportation.
  • 34% have avoided going to public places in general, such as stores or restaurants.
  • 26% have avoided small gatherings with family or friends.

As recently as January, majorities were avoiding each of these situations, including 72% who were avoiding large crowds.

Line graph. Trend from March 2020 to May 2021 in the percentage of Americans avoiding several types of activities due to their concern about the coronavirus. The percentage avoiding going to events with large crowds has fallen from 91% last spring to 44% today. Over the same period, those avoiding travel by air or public transportation has fallen from 89% to 40%; those avoiding going to public places has fallen from 79% to 34%; those avoiding small gatherings has fallen from 84% to 26%.

Visits to Stores and Service Providers, Travel at Highest of Pandemic

Separately, Gallup asks Americans which of 12 different types of public establishments they have visited in the past 24 hours. The rates on almost all of these are at their highest of the past 15 months.

Consumer trips to various types of stores are becoming more frequent -- 60% say they have visited a grocery store in the past day, 35% have visited another type of store, and 24% a pharmacy. All three figures are up six percentage points from April.

Line graph. Trend from March 2020 to May 2021 in percentages of Americans visiting four different types of establishments in the past day. The percentage visiting a grocery store has risen from 44% at the start of the pandemic to 60%. Thirteen percent visited other types of stores as well as a pharmacy last March, whereas today these figures are 35% and 24%, respectively.

The percentage visiting a grocery store has risen from 44% at the start of the pandemic to 60%. Thirteen percent visited other types of stores as well as pharmacies in March 2020, whereas today these figures are 35% and 24%, respectively.

The percentage who have gone to a restaurant in the past 24 hours jumped eight points in May to 38%, the largest monthly increase since the recovery began. About two-thirds of those who have gone to a restaurant -- equal to 26% of all U.S. adults -- now report dining in, up four points from April and double the rate recorded in January.

Line graph. Trend from March 2020 to May 2021 showing percentage of Americans going to restaurants, generally, as well as dining in at restaurants. The total percentage visiting restaurants rose from a low of 10% in March and April 2020 to 28% in October, but then falling to 19% in December. It then rose gradually to 20% in April and jumped to 38% in May. The percentage dining in at restaurants is 26% in May 2021, up from 8% a year ago.

Americans are much less likely to say they've gone to a doctor's office or hospital, a salon or barber, or a gym in the past 24 hours than they are to say they've visited a store or restaurant. But visits to these types of service providers have also been climbing since January and are now at or tied with their highest points during the pandemic.

The three-point increase to 9% in salon/barber visits since April is one of the biggest short-term increases in that behavior, which could reflect pent-up demand for professional grooming now that more Americans feel safe going out.

Line graph. Trend from March 2020 to May 2021 in percentage of U.S. adults visiting a doctor's office or hospital in past 24 hours. Also shows trend from May 2020 to May 2021 in percentages going to a hair salon or gym. Percentages have varied but tended to bel lowest last spring and are now at their highest after some volatility last summer and fall. Currently 17% say they visited a doctors' office in the last 24 hours, 9% visited a salon or barbershop and 8% visited a gym.

Gallup has yet to report a substantial rebound in Americans' travel or use of public transportation, as both were steady in May at low levels. Four percent of U.S. adults continue to report traveling (such as by air or boat) in the past 24 hours, while 3% have used public transportation.

Without pre-pandemic readings on these measures, it is unclear how dampened these behaviors may be compared with normal times, but they clearly haven't increased much from their lowest points during the pandemic. Those were 1% for travel and near zero percent for use of public transportation -- with the latter reported last March, when most Americans were living under state-issued stay-at-home orders.

Line graph. Trend from March 2020 to May 2021 in percentages of U.S. adults using public transportation or traveling by air, boat, etc. Percentages were minimal last spring, with zero to 1% using public transportation and 1% to 3% saying they traveled. Figures have remained low over the past year and are now 3% and 4%, respectively.

Gallup also finds 30% of Americans reporting they have visited someone else's home in the past 24 hours, up from 27% in April and a low of 10% last spring. More employed Americans say they have visited their place of work -- now 65%, up from 60% in April and a low of 38% last spring.

The percentage visiting a place of worship in the past day is essentially unchanged, at 10% in May versus 11% the previous month. However, this is significantly higher than the low of 4% in May 2020 when Gallup first measured it. This reinforces a separate Gallup finding that more Americans are returning to in-person worship services.

Mask Usage Down Since CDC Revised Guidelines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance on mask-wearing in May before Gallup's latest COVID-19 poll, stating: "Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing."

In this first reading since that announcement, fewer Americans are wearing a face mask when out in public than were in April, but the vast majority still report doing so. Currently, 79% say they have worn a mask in the past week when outside their home. This is down from 86% in April and roughly 90% each prior month since last July.

Line graph. Trend from April 2020 to May 2021 in the percentage of U.S. adults reporting they wore a mask in the past seven days when outside of their home out of concern about the coronavirus. Mask usage rose from 51% in mid-April 2020 to 75% at the end of the month and peaked at 91% last August. It was still 91% in January but is now 79%.

The decline in mask usage is not explained exclusively by vaccinated Americans taking advantage of the new CDC guideline to forgo masks. Fewer Americans report wearing a mask in the latest reading regardless of whether they are fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated or not vaccinated. Those who do not plan to be vaccinated remain the least likely to say they have worn a mask, at 49%, compared with 90% of those who are fully vaccinated.

Americans' Use of Face Masks, by Vaccination Status
% Have worn a face mask in the past seven days
Apr 2021 May 2021 Change
% % pct. pts.
U.S. adults 86 79 -7
Fully vaccinated 95 90 -5
Partially vaccinated 96 80 -16
Plan to get vaccinated 95 88 -7
Do not plan to get vaccinated 59 49 -10
Gallup Panel

Bottom Line

While it's hardly a vacation, a trip to the grocery store, to a friend's home or to a salon can feel like one after a year of being mostly cooped up at home. The percentage of U.S. adults enjoying these and other freedoms is rising as more Americans are vaccinated and are perhaps feeling encouraged by positive news reports about the high level of protection that COVID-19 vaccines afford their recipients. All of this is helping Americans to feel their lives are at least getting somewhat back to normal.

Learn more about how the Gallup Panel works.

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