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Local survey shows Tampa Bay residents aren’t ready to resume normal activities

A poll conducted by area business leaders says locals are still very uneasy about post-quarantine life.

TAMPA — Despite the lifting of state and local stay-at-home orders, bay area residents are still reluctant to emerge from quarantine to conduct pre-pandemic activities, according to the most recent survey by a group of Tampa Bay area business boosters.

The survey performed by the Tampa Bay Partnership reveals that not only do residents remain uneasy about leaving their homes, they want strong preventive practices to continue as they do.

In the survey, which polled 384 adult residents in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties over a three-day span starting May 13, nearly two-thirds (58 percent) believe that social distancing practices should continue indefinitely even if means that businesses will suffer and jobs will be lost.

“That’s a strong statement from people that they need to see a lot of treatments and safe practices strongly in place before they’re willing to go back to normal activities,” said Rick Homans, the president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership. “Those normal activities are things that are very important to all of us and certainly to the economy of Tampa Bay.”

The poll, which was done in collaboration with the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, United Way Suncoast and the University of South Florida Muma School of Business, showed residents are doing few public activities even as the restrictions are being lifted and the economy is reopening.

Just 33 percent of residents visited a friend or family member since stay-at-home orders were lifted on May 4, and just 30 percent said they have shopped in a retail store.

Even fewer visited a doctor’s or dentist’s office (19 percent), have visited a public park (18 percent), dined in a restaurant (14 percent), visited a public beach (11 percent), gone to the mall (seven percent) or booked future travel (5 percent). Twenty-seven percent of those polled said they’ve done none of the mentioned activities, which also included going to hair or nail salons (10 percent), attending religious services (4 percent), taking public transportation (4 percent) or hiring a transportation service (3 percent).

“We recognize that this is going to be a step-by-step process,” said Bob Morrison, the executive director of the Hillsborough County Hotel & Motel Association. “We have experience of the great recession in 2008, 2009, we have the experience of 9/11, so we know what the rebuilding process looks like. But we also know that as you reopen, the key is to reopen the correct way, because you only get one shot to get it right.”

Residents surveyed were less optimistic about the long-term pandemic outlook, with 24 percent of people saying that they feel things will be worse 60 days from now, up from 17 percent in the last survey ending April 30.

“That’s a bit discouraging but it seems to reflect what you see in those numbers what people are doing,” Homans said. “They’re settling in for a longer haul and they’re not going to go rushing out into the community as soon as the stay-at-home orders are lifted.”

While nearly two-third of residents want social distancing practices to continue to stop the spread of COVID-19, they are divided on what solutions to the pandemic they will support. While more than half (54 percent) said they are very likely to get vaccinated once they become available, 22 percent said they are not likely to get a vaccine.

And only 23 percent strongly supported anonymous GPS tracking for contact tracing purposes, 28 percent strongly opposed using it.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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