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Survey: Coronavirus pandemic will get worse before it gets better, say locals

Pessimism runs throughout the Tampa Bay Partnership's latest survey on schools, masks, voting and who's to blame.
Motorists wait in line for a coronavirus test at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg on June 29, 2020.
Motorists wait in line for a coronavirus test at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg on June 29, 2020. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Jul. 31, 2020|Updated Jul. 31, 2020

Nearly half of Tampa Bay residents think the coronavirus pandemic will be worse in a month than it is today. More than 40 percent believe we’re not yet halfway through it.

The ominous outlook is all over the latest coronavirus survey from the Tampa Bay Partnership, a nonprofit group of Tampa Bay business leaders that’s been taking the pulse of residents on different issues throughout the pandemic.

According to the latest survey, released Friday, 43 percent of those who have been laid off or furloughed believe they won’t be able to find another job with similar pay, a figure that’s doubled since May. More than half remain very concerned about someone in their house catching the coronavirus. Four in five support additional safety measures, such as stay-at-home orders, pausing business reopenings or requiring facilities to implement social distancing restrictions.

And for the first time, the percentage of residents who think we’ll be worse off 30 days from now — and even 60 days from now — is greater than those who think we’ll be better or about the same.

Related: U.S. economy shrank at record-breaking 33% rate last quarter

“Just about every trend line in this survey is pointing downhill in terms of the public attitude towards the pandemic,” said Tampa Bay Partnership chief executive officer Rick Homans. “I think it’s clear that the public is worried, they’re pessimistic, they are losing faith in their leadership at the government level across the board. And they want some sort of action.”

Whom do residents blame? Increasingly, President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Fifty-two percent of respondents said Trump is handling the pandemic poorly, continuing a steady uptick from 36 percent in early April. Forty-four percent said DeSantis is doing a poor job, a sharp jump from 27 percent in April and May.

“People want to either pump the brakes or slam on the brakes, and clearly, nobody wants to hit the gas here,” Homans said. “They know what needs to be done, and in this survey, it appears they’re saying to the elected officials, ’It’s okay to pause or pull back.‘ ”

Related: New unemployment claims drop in Florida, but rise nationally

For the first time, the survey asked whether residents thought governmental face mask mandates were a good idea. Eighty-six percent supported mask requirements at the local level, while 82 supported state and federal requirements.

The study also asked residents what they thought about schools reopening. Nearly half said they should remain closed, with another third saying they should use a hybrid online/in-person approach. Only 15 percent said all students should return to school. (Of note: Only 33 percent of respondents had children at home, a number that reflects the area as a whole.)

Related: New start dates, mask mandates dominate school opening discussions

The survey also asked about the presidential election in November, and again, the responses were not optimistic. Three in five residents said they’re worried about voter turnout due to COVID-19 fears, long lines or a scarcity of poll workers. Four in five support voting by mail, with two in five saying all registered voters should be automatically mailed a ballot.

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Related: Help wanted: Florida poll workers to brave the coronavirus

The stat that most concerned Homans: Only 46 percent of residents said they’d be very likely to get vaccinated if it becomes available, compared to 30 percent who said they were not likely. Those numbers shifted from 54 percent likely and 22 percent not-likely in May.

“There’s a problem there on the horizon,” Homans said. “If a vaccine is going to come on the market within the next three months to a year, there’s going to have to be a big-deal public campaign to convince people that that’s the right direction to go.”

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