The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has consistently hit record highs over the past three weeks, reaching more than 93,000 patients Sunday, and states and localities are tightening restrictions on restaurants, gyms and schools in an effort to tamp down the spread of the virus and alleviate the burden on health systems on the brink of collapse. Public health experts, including those advising President-elect Joe Biden, have clashed on how far to go, but despite the heated political discourse around so-called lockdowns, the new survey indicates most people are generally supportive of these public health measures.
Meanwhile, in the event of rising coronavirus cases in their states over the next month, 84 percent of adults said they support wearing masks in public, and 68 percent support fines or jail time for those who don’t abide by statewide mask requirements, according to the survey, which was conducted Nov. 18-22 among 2,200 adults and has a margin of error of 2 percentage points.
“Oftentimes a small but vocal minority will make it seem as if an issue is bigger than it really is,” said Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. “But then you see data like this, and I think it does show that people are engaged and they are taking it seriously.”
Political leaning was a stronger determinant of a respondent’s attitude toward these measures than income, education level or geographic setting.
“Ideally, we should be framing this as, masks are what allow businesses to stay open,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a visiting professor of health policy and management at George Washington University and the former health commissioner of Baltimore. Closing businesses without enough people also wearing masks and forgoing private social gatherings, for example, would “hurt the economy without actually tamping down the virus.”
Other national measures had broader consensus: 82 percent of adults said they strongly or somewhat support social distancing measures that require people to stand 6 feet apart from one another in public and limit large gatherings, like concerts or sports events, and 83 percent said they support quarantines of up to 14 days for people with COVID-19 symptoms.