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COVID-19 Information

Wide Majority of Americans Support Masks, Social Distancing, Staying Home to Fight Pandemic

UMD-Post Poll Finds Expectations for Safe Public Gatherings Slip to Later in Summer

By Sara Gavin

Person wearing mask walks by a sign that says "It will get better."

Photo by AP/Matt Rourke

A person wearing a protective face mask as a precaution against COVID-19 walks by a closed storefront in Lebanon, Pa., yesterday. A new poll by The Washington Post and University of Maryland researchers finds broad support for such measures aimed at controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.

As back-to-work protests and law-breaking establishments grab headlines and signal frustration with ongoing stay-at-home measures, the latest University of Maryland-Washington Post poll finds an overwhelming majority of Americans support measures like wearing masks in public and limiting contact with others to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The poll, which surveyed a random national sample of 1,007 adults from May 5-10, discovered eight in 10 Americans consider it necessary for people in their communities to wear masks outside their homes, while more than 80% say people should stay at least six feet apart from each other in public. Three-quarters of Americans believe people should avoid gathering with friends they don’t live with, and a slightly higher percentage say people should continue to remain at home as much as possible.

“The widespread belief across the political spectrum that people should wear masks and restrict interactions with people outside their homes is striking,” said Michael Hanmer, a UMD professor of government and politics who co-directed the poll. “This stands in stark contrast to the handful of crowds in close spaces that have gained media attention recently.”

The UMD-Post poll also finds roughly two-thirds of Americans don’t expect gatherings of 10 or more people to be safe until July or later. This represents a shift from results of a similar poll in mid-April, when 51% of Americans said they thought gatherings of that size would be safe by the end of June.

Fears about contracting the virus persist: 58% of Americans overall say they are very or somewhat worried about getting the infection and becoming seriously ill, down from 63% last week but similar to 57% three weeks ago.

“Results suggest the public is highly attentive to what is going on and the risks we face and are listening to advice from medical professionals,” Hanmer said. “Short of a breakthrough in developing a vaccine, it seems unlikely we will see more optimism for a return to the way things were before the crisis.”

This is the fourth poll focused on public opinion surrounding the coronavirus pandemic conducted through a partnership between the University of Maryland Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement and The Washington Post. Results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.


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