Gallup Inc.

07/06/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 07/06/2020 02:19

More Mask Use, Worry About Lack of Social Distancing in U.S.

Story Highlights

  • 54% worried about lack of social distancing in local area, up from May
  • 86% of U.S. adults have used a mask in public in past week
  • Democrats much more likely than Republicans to worry and wear masks

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is rising sharply, 54% of Americans say they are worried about the lack of social distancing in their local area. Gallup's June 22-28 polling marks the first time that this measure has reached the majority level, and it coincides with a record-high 86% of U.S. adults saying they have worn a mask in public in the past week.

Social Distancing Worries Plaguing Americans

One of the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) key recommendations to limit the spread of the coronavirus has been to maintain at least a six-foot distance from people outside of their households. Although most U.S. adults still report that they practice social distancing 'always' or 'very often,' about a quarter report a fairly lax approach to mask-wearing, saying they 'sometimes,' rarely' or 'never' wear one, compared with 7% who said the same when the nation was at its most vigilant in early April.

Heightened news media attention may explain why the majority now say they are worried about the lack of social distancing in their own communities. This includes 19% who are 'very worried' and 35% 'moderately worried.' One-quarter are 'not too worried,' and 21% are 'not worried at all.'

Gallup first began tracking this measure in its probability-based online survey in early April when COVID-19 cases in the U.S. were spiking. At that point, 50% of Americans said they were worried about social distancing in their local area. Worry declined to a low of 41% in early June when state restrictions across the country had been eased, but it has been rising since then, as cases have once again surged. In addition to the surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, there has been increased attention on places where the public is not practicing social distancing -- including bars, beaches and protests -- which may contribute to the level of worry.

Line graph. The percentages of Americans who say they are very or moderately worried about the lack of social distancing in their local area. Currently, 54% of Americans are worried. This is a four-percentage-point increase since the prior week and the highest on record since the measure was first tracked in early April.

Although the most recent COVID-19 hotspots are located in the Southern and Western U.S., there is no significant difference in the levels of worry about social distancing in the four regions of the country. As is the case with many attitudes about the pandemic, views of social distancing are politically polarized. Democrats are more than three times as likely as Republicans to say they are worried about deficient social distancing, 77% vs. 24%.

Americans' Face Mask Use Hits New High

The CDC was slower to advise the public to cover their faces in public than they were to call for social distancing, but Americans quickly adopted the use of face masks, and usage has risen since early April when it was first recommended. The percentage of U.S. adults who say they have worn a mask in public in the past seven days rose from 51% in early April to the current 86% high point. Currently, 11% say they have not considered wearing a mask, and 3% say they are considering it.

Line graph. Face mask usage is at its highest level since the CDC first recommended the use of face coverings when out in public. Currently, a high of 86% of Americans say they have worn a mask in public in the past week.

Wearing a face covering when out in public has been a politically-charged issue since President Donald Trump said in early April that he would not wear a mask despite the guidance from the CDC. The current 32-percentage point gap in Democrats' and Republicans' reported mask usage is the widest it has been. Essentially all Democrats (98%), 66% of Republicans and 85% of independents say they have worn a mask in public in the past week.

More recently, Vice President Mike Pence, who had been criticized earlier for not wearing a mask at public appearances, has been doing so more often and urged all Americans to follow suit. Other prominent Republicans, including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, former Vice President Dick Cheney and Texas governor Greg Abbott, have advised people to wear face masks.

Line chart. Partisans' use of face masks when they are in public since early April. Currently, 98% of Democrats, 85% of independents and 66% of Republicans report using a face mask in public in the past week. The figures for Democrats and independents are at their highest level, while Republicans use is down from 71% earlier this month.

Bottom Line

CDC guidelines for limiting the spread of the coronavirus are clear. Social distancing and the use of face masks when in public, as well as frequent handwashing, are the best ways to contain the virus according to these public health officials.

COVID-19 cases have begun to surge following states reopening their economies, and as Americans are seeing numerous instances of a lack of social distancing in crowded venues, they are becoming increasingly concerned. As a result, the public is recalibrating attitudes and behaviors after moving toward a more lax approach in the prior month or so.

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