What will life in Seattle look like once the COVID-19 social-distancing restrictions have eased?
As we muddle through the stay-at-home order, a lot of us are longing for the day when our lives can get back to normal. But, according to a new survey, most city residents don’t envision anything resembling normal for a very long time.
When asked what changes they anticipate making for the next year or longer, a solid majority of Seattle residents (57%) say they will continue to avoid social gatherings and physical contact — in other words, people.
Sure, we like to joke about being a city of introverts, but in reality, we love going out and socializing. Restaurants and bars, cultural and sporting events, movies and nightlife — more often than not, they’re packed. It’s hard to imagine the devastating impact on city life if the majority of residents stay away from all these things for a year or longer.
Interestingly, the percentage who say they’ll avoid social gatherings and physical contact for at least a year is consistent across age groups, even among the youngest Seattle residents (18-34).
The survey of Seattle city residents was conducted between April 24 and 25 by Elucd, a Brooklyn-based public-sentiment polling firm, which also conducted a tracking poll on coronavirus perceptions in Seattle for 10 days in March. Elucd is also tracking coronavirus public sentiment nationally.
“In this particular environment, where things are changing so quickly, it’s very hard for leaders to lead with data, with facts,” said Michael Simon, co-founder and CEO of Elucd. “We thought we could provide leaders with hard data that would help them understand how people’s perceptions are shifting, and how they’re responding to all this new guidance that they’re being given.”
Simon hopes this survey data can help inform government officials on the most effective ways to communicate information and actions to take in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
The survey shows that a majority of Seattle residents will continue a host of other new behaviors in the next year or longer, including frequent hand-washing, wearing of masks and gloves, and using hand sanitizer.
About one-third of Seattleites believe they will continue to work from home long term. If true, that would have a major impact on traffic congestion and transit use. Census data shows that only about 8% of employed city residents typically worked from home in 2018.
From state to state, Americans are grappling with the question of how, and how quickly, we can safely ease the restrictions put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Some have grown impatient. Here in Washington though, we’re taking a more cautious approach than some other states, which have already reopened certain businesses.
And, at least among Seattle residents, there is no sense of hurry to end the stay-at-home order. The survey shows that the majority here want one of two things to happen — both based on data — before social distancing can be put to rest: Widespread antibody testing (39%) or a significant drop in coronavirus cases (27%). And 67% of Seattleites are willing to keep social distancing as long as required.
Simon notes that these numbers are higher than the national average, and he thinks that might reflect a better understanding of how to deal with the crisis here than in many parts of the country: “Your average Seattle resident has been consuming information about this crisis for longer than the rest of the country, given that this was the site of the initial outbreak,” he said.
That said, there is a substantial minority of Seattle city residents who have just about had it with social distancing. The survey shows that nearly a quarter (24%) of the city’s adult population will only put up with it for an additional two months or less. If so, we may soon start to see signs of declining vigilance when it comes to social distancing measures.
But for now, compliance is very high in Seattle, with just about 7% saying that they are social distancing only some or none of the time. That number has plummeted since Elucd last surveyed city residents on March 22, when it was at 23%.
What’s the worst thing about the stay-at-home order for Seattleites?
Nearly half (47%) of respondents say they miss seeing family and friends. Staying indoors all day came in a distant second place, at 16%, followed by closed businesses at 13%.
Then, of course, there’s the economic impacts. The survey shows more than one third (34%) of residents have either lost their job or had their hours cut because of the COVID-19 crisis. That number is actually slightly higher among those age 35-to-54 than it is among the youngest adults.
The clear majority of those surveyed, at 69%, say they have cut back on food spending since the crisis began. And 23% have skipped a credit card or loan payment.
“Those are staggering numbers,” Simon said, “but they are still lower than the national averages.”
The survey included 410 Seattle residents, age 18 and older. The survey’s sample is representative of the city’s population by age, sex, race, income, and area of the city. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.89 percentage points.