With about 25% of the U.S. population fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and states beginning to lift more of the restrictions on businesses, events, and travel, an increasing number of Americans are going to be able to start to pick up where normal life left off just over a year ago.
But a new survey by Nashville-based text marketing firm SlickText shows that most of us aren’t ready to jump back into that pool just yet.
The survey asked 1,000 people aged 18-54+ about when they thought they would feel comfortable returning to things like live concerts and sporting events, gyms and restaurants, air travel and places of worship. In almost every category, a majority of people indicated they were taking a wait-and-see approach -- with women showing far more caution than men.
You can view the full results of the survey here.
RESTAURANTS, OKAY; CHURCH, LESS SO
After a year of eating at home, restaurants seemed to be the area where people were most comfortable returning to normal. About 50% of respondents said they had already eaten at restaurants. Another 20% said they would be more comfortable waiting 1-2 months, 21% saying they’d wait for 3-6 months, and about 10% planning on holding back for more than 6 months.
About 30% of those surveyed said they had already returned to church, with roughly 22% saying they’d comfortable returning in 1-2 months, 25% in 3-6 months, and 23% in more than 6 months.
WOMEN LESS COMFORTABLE THAN MEN IN RETURNING GYMS AND ARENAS
About 46% of female respondents said they would feel comfortable waiting to return to a gym or exercise class for 5-6 months, while only 28% of male respondents were ready to wait that long. Similar gender splits were seen in questions about
There were also some interesting regional differences of opinion. Respondents from states like Florida and Texas, where restrictions were limited for much of 2020, were much more open to returning to travel and to public spaces than respondents from New York or California, which saw some serious lockdowns.
WILLING TO PAY FOR SAFETY...AT LEAST A LITTLE
Many respondents were in no hurry to see some safety measures end, saying that they would feel more comfortable going places if measures like mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing signage, and vigorous cleaning of surfaces were in place. Half of all respondents said they preferred touchless payment options.
In all, 73% of respondents said they would be willing to pay a bit more to cover the cost of safety enhancements -- although most were not willing to go above a 5% surcharge.
THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO ‘NORMAL’
In total, the SlickText survey shows a nation understandably cautious about the near future.
Despite the growing number of vaccinated Americans, we are still seeing an average of more than 60,000 new COVID cases a day in the United States, as the more contagious British variant of the virus has edged out the original US strain. There are still many questions about how long the current vaccines will last, whether they can stand up to variants coming out of places like South Africa and Brazil, and if we’ll be able to convince enough people to get the vaccines to reach herd immunity.
The results also point to what mental health experts are calling “re-opening anxiety,” as people face choices about going back to environments and activities they’ve come to see as potentially dangerous.
“There is a lot of uncertainty about what’s safe and what’s not right now. That is really a breeding ground for anxiety, as it relates to contracting the virus or the fear of responsibility in spreading the virus,” says Lily Brown of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety in an interview with the website Psycom.
Experts say that better public health messaging on how Americans can begin to safely interact and businesses doing what they can to put anxious customers’ minds at ease could help alleviate some of the stress -- but warn it will take some time before people feel at ease as we move into the next phase of the pandemic.
“There is a lot of uncertainty about what’s safe and what’s not right now,” says Brown. “That really is a breeding ground for anxiety, as it relates to contracting the virus or the fear of responsibility in spreading the virus.”
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