Coronavirus: Surveys track rapid changes to daily life in America
The 5 p.m. rush hour no longer backs up Interstate 280 in San Jose during Santa Clara County's shelter in place orders. Photo by Katie Lauer.

Surveys of life after the coronavirus pandemic paint a familiar picture of social distancing, increased hand washing and economic stress.

Nearly a month ago, the Kaiser Family Foundation asked 1,216 people to detail the changes and differences they’ve made — voluntarily or not — in the weeks since cases of COVID-19 arrived in the United States.

SingleCare, a health care technology company, also asked 1,000 Americans similar questions two weeks ago, while a 1,003-person poll sponsored by the Washington Post and ABC News circulated last Wednesday.

While not an all-encompassing picture of how the country has reacted, each of the three data sets shows that more and more Americans have started logging changes to their daily lives.

Daily practices

Starting with one of the most visual differences in life, the practice of social distancing has increased.

After SingleCare found that 74 percent of participants were social distancing, the Washington Post-ABC News poll recorded that 93 percent of respondents were — a 19 percent increase five days apart. The two polls found an average of 84 percent of people are washing their hands more frequently or for a longer period of time.

Kaiser’s survey recorded that 97 percent of people knew public health experts suggested frequent hand washing but didn’t mention the practice of social distancing at all. That isn’t entirely surprising, as the Bay Area’s shelter in place order — the first of its kind in the nation — began two days after the poll ended.

When residents do venture outside of their homes to purchase necessities, the frequency of shoppers stocking up on products has increased over time.

On March 15, the Kaiser study found that 35 percent of people had stocked up on household goods, such as food, cleaning supplies or prescription medications. Out of SingleCare’s 1,000 respondents five days later, 48 percent had stockpiled non-perishables, 39 percent had hoarded cleaning supplies and 37 percent amassed bottled water, while 20 percent said they hadn’t stocked up at all.

Only 10 days after the first questionnaire, the Washington Post-ABC News survey recorded 61 percent of respondents had stocked up on the same kinds of goods.

Job concerns

While Kaiser’s poll recorded that only 9 percent of people had lost a job or business, SingleCare found that 41 percent of working U.S. residents were worried about losing their jobs, with 30 percent of that group expressly concerned due to closed or limited businesses.

Data from the U.S. Department of Labor reported 281,000 initial unemployment claims as of March 14. By the end of the month, nearly 10 million initial unemployment claims had been filed nationally – a record level.

Of those who hadn’t been laid off, SingleCare recorded 58 percent were concerned of it happening, while 53 percent worry their hours or pay will be cut. Additionally, 33 percent of respondents said they or someone in their immediate family lost their job, with 51 percent reporting reduced hours or pay.

According to NPR, the unemployment rate in February was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. That rate is rising, and estimates are as high as 15 percent. For comparison, that number sat around 25 percent during the Great Depression in 1929, while the Great Recession of 2008-09 saw between 5 and 10 percent unemployment.

In fact, when the Washington Post-ABC News poll asked residents if they thought this coronavirus crisis would lead to another recession, 92 percent said yes.

Emotional toll

While people are staying home to stay healthy, SingleCare found that 19 percent or people felt it was increasing their anxiety, 17 felt isolated and 14 percent felt more depressed. More generally, the Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 70 percent of respondents said the coronavirus was a source of stress.

As these changes to daily life continue to rapidly evolve, experts like Kathy Forward, executive director for NAMI Santa Clara County, say those feelings of stress, anxiety and depression are to be expected.

Forward and local clinical psychologists say that as the future remains uncertain, that can take a toll on mental health. Professionals suggest that finding a personalized system — whether that’s prioritizing sleep, getting outdoors to exercise or staying connected to others over the phone and virtually — is critical to weathering all the changes the coronavirus crisis has and will continue to bring across the country.

Contact Katie Lauer at katie@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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