Poll: Californians trust public health officials, fear economic impact
An OptumServe employee removes a cotton swab after testing a resident for COVID-19 at James Lick High School. Photo by Luke Johnson.

A new poll shows that Californians support public health officials’ efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but believe that the virus disproportionately affects people of color and that the worst is still ahead.

Released on Thursday and sponsored by The California Endowment, a nonprofit health organization, the poll surveyed 1,240 California voters to gauge their views on the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and on potential policies.

This poll builds on a survey The California Endowment had previously sponsored, asking a similar set of questions of those belonging to vulnerable demographics, including people of color, Spanish speakers and those who have household incomes of $50,000 or less.

In contrast to the poll of vulnerable residents, 80% of California voters called the “economic impacts of coronavirus” an extremely serious or very serious problem, followed by homelessness and the cost of housing and health care. But vulnerable residents placed homelessness first, followed by the coronavirus and the economy.

The poll shows that most Californians believe the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is more serious than its health impact and other Bay Area issues like housing, healthcare and homelessness. Graphic courtesy of the California Endowment. Survey conducted by FM3 Research.

The California voters called the economic effects of the pandemic more serious than any other issue, including homelessness, the cost of housing, the cost of health care and even the “public health impacts of coronavirus.”

The poll’s findings came with a plus or minus 3-point margin of error.

Two-thirds of voters said they approve of how local public health officials and Gov. Gavin Newsom reacted to the pandemic, while roughly one-third approve of the response by Congress and President Donald Trump.

Poncho Guevara, executive director of Sacred Heart Community Service in San Jose, said he’s relieved California voters respect public health officials’ orders and appreciate the pandemic’s severity.

It’s heartening to know that Californians are actually paying attention to the science and to the directives of the public health officials,” he said. “Because they realize that until there’s a vaccine that’s widely and equitably distributed in our communities, there is no public safety.”

Public health officials’ leadership during the coronavirus pandemic is more popular than Governor Gavin Newsom’s leadership, President Donald Trump’s leadership and Congress’s leadership, according to the poll. Graphic courtesy of the California Endowment. Survey conducted by FM3 Research.

According to the poll, most voters recognize that the coronavirus has disproportionately affected people of color and believe “all Californians have a shared responsibility to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”

Ninety three percent of the respondents agreed that residents share responsibility in preventing the spread of COVID-19, while 70% agree that people of color are disproportionately harmed by the virus’ economic impacts and 67% said people of color are disproportionately affected by health impacts.

Guevara said the fact that nearly a third of respondents said people of color are not disproportionately affected by the health impacts of COVID-19 concerns him.

Too many of us are burying our heads in the sand when it comes to how systemic racism affects public health,” he said.

The respondents agreed that low-income residents are harmed by the coronavirus, with 78% agreeing that the pandemic disproportionately affects their health and 82% agreeing that it disproportionately affects their economic situation.

Fifty-three percent of respondents said “the worst is yet to come” with coronavirus and a third said they believed “the worst is over.”

Nearly half of respondents — 45% — are extremely or very concerned about themselves or a family member getting the virus and 61% said they worry more about contracting COVID-19 than economic losses from the pandemic. Similarly, a countywide poll in May found that Santa Clara County residents placed public health before the economy when forced to choose between the two.

Guevara said he hopes the pandemic helps to guide policies that protect the most vulnerable residents.

“By making collective sacrifices and understanding that some people are hit harder than others, it may be a learning moment that we can take into the future,” he said.

Contact John Bricker at [email protected] or follow him @JohnMichaelBr15 on Twitter.

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