Where America Stands on the COVID Pandemic

By Greg Hinz | Crain’s

An exclusive Harris survey finds a majority of Americans are cautious about venturing back into the office—and believe health should be prioritized over the economy for now.

Americans generally approve of how state and local officials have handled the COVID-19 pandemic. But even as a significant minority pushes for a faster reopening, most are worried to very worried about what will happen later this fall, with a whopping 1 in 3 saying office buildings should not reopen for at least a few months—if ever.

So says the American public in a unique mid-pandemic survey prepared for Crain’s Chicago Business by The Harris Poll, a nationally known polling operation that will be regularly producing looks at public opinion with Crain’s, this one national but future ones more focused on Chicago and Illinois.

Harris interviewed more than 2,000 adults nationwide to get a snapshot of how the battle against COVID-19 is going in the public’s view and what should happen next. Opinion is clearly conflicted on some points, but incredibly solid on others. For instance, even as reported COVID cases are spiking in many states in the South and West, 86 percent of Americans—and 95 percent of those aged 65 or older—told Harris they believe another spike will occur later this year during the normal fall flu season.

Here are the highlights.

Asked how their local mayor or governor is doing so far, 78 percent and 76 percent, respectively, give marks of at least “fair,” with 51 percent and 54 percent saying “very good” or “good.”

Similarly, a clear majority, 57 percent, said the economic reopening and easing of stay-home orders should not have occurred more quickly. Public opinion among Midwest residents surveyed generally tracks the national figures, with 59 percent approving of the timing and 41 percent disapproving.

Pressed in two questions about what should happen next, the public is divided but tilts toward making health the priority.

Forty-three percent of those surveyed said mayors should make limiting the spread of COVID-19 the priority over reopening business, with 35 percent saying both should be equal priorities. Just 15 percent—about 1 in 6—said reopening should be the priority.

“The reopening and economic recovery could take time if elected officials follow the public’s direction,” said Harris CEO Will Johnson. “Almost half of all respondents in the Midwest and nationally say the top priority for local and state government is to limit the spread of COVID-19, without consideration of economic costs. Only 1 in 7 say the economy should be the top priority.”

Asked specifically about reopening offices, 8 percent said workplaces should reopen immediately without restrictions, and another 56 percent said sometime this summer, with safety requirements in place. But 19 percent said offices should wait until “fall/winter” to reopen, and an additional 17 percent said offices should stay shut “indefinitely.”

That won’t be good news to Chicago’s reeling office sector and suggests people may be getting used to working from home.

“Many people aren’t in any hurry to return to the office,” said Johnson, The Harris Poll chief. “That has implications for commercial hubs like downtown Chicago, which depend on a big influx of commuters every weekday for support.”

Other findings:

• A quarter of the sample, including half of those aged 18-34, know someone who has been tested for COVID, with 3 in 10 knowing someone who is positive and 10 percent knowing someone who has died from the infection.

• Latinos are most likely to get tested, with 30 percent of those of Hispanic origin saying they have done some, compared to 25 percent of Blacks and 19 percent of whites. Another 5 percent said they’ve tried to get tested but were not able to do so.

• Safety masks are popular, at least in theory. Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed say they wear masks every time/most of the time when they are out in public. But only 49 percent say all or almost all of those they see out are doing so.

The Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States from June 30 to July 2 among 2,041 people aged 18 and older. The survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of potential sampling error is available.

Read the full article at Crain’s.