Gallup on reopening America: 87% unwilling to resume normal activities for now

What if you threw a grand re-opening … and almost no one came? In a Gallup poll taken mostly over the weekend, only 14% of Americans want to go back to their normal routines immediately in this coronavirus pandemic. Most Americans want to see some significant progress against the disease before resuming their public lives:

If being out in public were entirely up to them at this moment during the global pandemic, 14% of Americans say they would resume their normal day-to-day activities right now, but the rest would hold off:

  • 42% would wait until the number of new cases of COVID-19 declines significantly
  • 38% would wait until there are no new cases for some period of time
  • 7% would wait until a vaccine is developed

Some of this, no doubt, is driven by government warnings and prohibition on being out in public unless for “essential” business. Even absent stay-at-home orders and guidance, however, only 22% say they would choose to go back to normal. Why? More than half of Americans feel they personally are at significant risk of contracting COVID-19. That will inform their behavior in the short term — and maybe a lot longer than that, too:

Importantly, there is a strong correlation between Americans’ estimate of their personal risk and their readiness to return to normal.

  • Among those who say it’s “very likely” they would suffer severe symptoms, 71% say they would continue to practice social distancing (even if there were no government restrictions) until there are no new cases or a vaccine is developed.
  • Among those who say it’s “likely” they’d experience severe symptoms, that percentage drops to 50%. For those who consider their chances of being very sick “unlikely,” it falls to 36% — and to 22% among those who describe their chances of severe illness as “very unlikely.”

This is the problem that we face with the reaction to the jobless numbers this morning. After watching over 6.6 million jobs evaporate in a week — likely even more than that — people began demanding that we re-open the economy now. Donald Trump and his advisers, especially epidemiological Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, explain every day now why it is more important than ever to hold the line on social distancing and limiting the economy to only the essentials, but pressure will build to stop those policies with every weekly jobless-claims report.

This poll, however, shows that few Americans would willingly participate in such a grand re-opening, at least for now. The most optimistic want to wait for a significant decline in COVID-19 cases, and that may not come for at least another month nationally. Regionally, some places might see accelerations rather than declines at that point, covered by a (hopefully) sharp decline in New York and New Jersey as the disease runs its course there. That would only add in 42% of the public, while another 45% want to wait until either there are no new cases or a vaccine of some sort widely available. That could be months before nearly half of all Americans feel comfortable enough to conduct any economic activity beyond that which is absolutely necessary.

Will those numbers change as economic damage escalates? Undoubtedly, but the scale of economic damage was already fairly apparent when this survey was taken. In order to fully start an economic resurrection, you’ll need a lot more than 42% of people ready to engage in public again, and confident that it won’t kill them or their families to do so. This shows a large disposition for hunkering down rather than re-engagement, which means “re-opening America” isn’t going to be a short-term solution no matter what federal and state governments might attempt to do.

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