Vulnerable Californians place coronavirus fears ahead of the economy: survey
Registered nurse Brianne Pho is pictured administering COVID-19 tests at the San Jose Police Activities League Stadium. Photo by Luke Johnson.

As the region begins to reopen, the threat of the coronavirus remains firmly among the top three worries for many of the most vulnerable people in the Bay Area, according to a recent survey.

The survey, commissioned by nonprofit health foundation, The California Endowment, polled 813 Californians who are people of color, Spanish speakers or have household incomes of $50,000 or less between April 25 and April 30. The questions aimed to gauge attitudes around the virus and the impacts of the resulting economic shutdowns.

Of the Bay Area respondents, the coronavirus ranked the second-most pressing concern, sandwiched between homelessness and the economy.

“Though concern about economic impacts is widespread ‐‐ and many have lost jobs, had their hours cut back or their wages reduced – the dominant worry remains fear of infection,” leaders for FM3 Research, which conducted the poll, wrote in a memo last week.

Those who live in more urban areas tend to be more concerned about the coronavirus than those in rural areas, the poll shows. Graphic courtesy of the California Endowment. Survey conducted by FM3 Research

The novel coronavirus, which has been spreading in the South Bay since January, has infected 3,888 and killed 155 in the county as of Thursday. Santa Clara County recorded its two consecutive highest daily case counts Monday and Tuesday. The county reported 125 new confirmed cases Tuesday, superseding Monday’s count of 122 new cases.

Across the state, the virus has infected 195,571 and killed 5,733 Californians.

State and county leaders shuttered most businesses and public places in mid-March in an effort to curb the spread of the contagious virus that causes a deadly respiratory illness known as COVID-19.

Since then, county leaders have gradually reopened their economies, though Santa Clara County is lagging behind most other parts of the state, and the South Bay’s top health official said this week that isn’t likely to change soon.

The recent survey findings came with a plus or minus 3.5 margin of error, but reflect a similar outcome to another Santa Clara County-based poll last month.

In that county-commissioned survey of 1,000 random Santa Clara County residents, 59 percent said they’re most concerned with public health, compared to 39 percent who worried more about impacts to the economy.

Some county supervisors pushed back on whether the findings truly reflected residents’ sentiments, while others said it affirmed that the county should move carefully to reopen businesses, schools and gathering places.

Respondents to the California Endowment survey were “acutely aware of the inequities inherent the virus’s impact, with solid majorities saying communities of color and low‐income Californians are bearing disproportionate health and economic impacts,” the FM3 memo said.

Graphic courtesy of the California Endowment. Survey conducted by FM3 Research

Indeed, local data shows that Latinx residents account for nearly 46 percent of the recorded coronavirus cases in Santa Clara County, despite making up about 26 percent of the population. Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders are also slightly overrepresented compared to their population size in the case count.

Across California, people of color collectively ranked the virus their top concern in the survey. However, white Californians placed the coronavirus significantly further down on the list, the survey shows.

Graphic courtesy of the California Endowment. Survey conducted by FM3 Research

More than half of those surveyed said they thought “the worst is yet to come,” as it relates to the pandemic and most respondents said they’d seek out public benefits if they lost their income. Even so, only half said they would know how to get that help, if needed.

“These findings illuminate that we need to do better to promote and target resources to meet the needs of the most vulnerable Californians, particularly our communities of color,” Dr. Anthony Iton, senior vice president of The California Endowment, said in a statement.

Graphic courtesy of the California Endowment. Survey conducted by FM3 Research

Read the survey memo here, and scroll through a powerpoint presentation of the findings here.

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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