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Despite ‘pandemic fatigue,‘ Floridians still support strong mitigation policies | Column
A statewide survey shows Floridians remain willing to sacrifice for the common good, writes a USF researcher.
USF survey
USF survey [ Provided ]
Published Aug. 13, 2020
Updated Aug. 13, 2020

As we near six months since COVID-19 first shuttered the U.S. economy in early March, we might assume that the early novelty of shutdowns and social distancing has long since given way to impatience — or even “pandemic fatigue.” Certainly, from cable news to social media, we encounter voices suggesting that Americans are fed up with the onerous restrictions promoted by public health officials. However, contrary to these arguments and assumptions, Floridians continue to exhibit overwhelming support for stronger policy solutions to slow the spread of COVID-19.

USF professor Stephen Neely
USF professor Stephen Neely [ File photo ]

A recent survey conducted at the University of South Florida found that concerns over the novel coronavirus remain high throughout the Sunshine State, and most Floridians continue to favor stricter preventive measures at the state and local level. These include the issuance of a statewide mask mandate, stricter limits on public gatherings and even the closure of public schools this fall.

The survey — which was conducted between July 30 and August 10 by researchers in USF’s School of Public Affairs — found that Floridians still have significant concerns over the ongoing pandemic. A majority (55 percent) believe that the worst is not yet behind us, while nearly two-thirds (63 percent) remain concerned about a friend or family member contracting the virus in the coming months.

Given these persistent concerns, it’s unsurprising that Floridians continue to support strong mitigation efforts. For example, an overwhelming majority (87 percent) noted that they would support a statewide mask mandate, with nearly three-quarters (73 percent) indicating that they would “strongly support” such a measure.

Additionally, the survey found widespread support for closing Florida’s public schools this fall. In total, 73 percent indicated that they would support doing so, while 54 percent noted that they would “strongly support” such a move. While respondents were not directly asked their attitudes toward virtual schooling, it appears to be a preferred alternative for most Floridians until the pandemic subsides.

Support for closing public schools is particularly high among African Americans, with 88 percent indicating support and 68 percent in “strong support.” This correlation is perhaps unsurprising given the disproportionate rate of COVID-19 infections in many African-American communities.

A majority of Floridians also favor additional policy solutions, such as placing stricter limits on public gatherings (85 percent), as well as temporarily reclosing bars and restaurants (66 percent), houses of worship (63 percent) and public parks and beaches (60 percent).

While attempts to politicize the coronavirus outbreak — particularly at the national level — have created the impression of sharp partisan divisions on the issue of mitigation, Floridians continue to show strong bipartisan support for most protective policies. While Republicans are more likely to believe that the worst is behind us, and Democrats are more in favor of school closures and a statewide mask mandate, overall majorities in both parties are supportive of each measure.

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Across the board, the survey responses suggest that Floridians want state leaders to take more deliberate and aggressive actions to slow the spread of COVID-19, including the implementation and enforcement of a statewide mask mandate, which medical experts suggest would be a significant step toward slowing the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

To date, Florida’s patchwork COVID response has been derided as insufficient in many circles, and these criticisms are likely to grow louder in the coming days, particularly as children begin heading back to school and the state remains among the dwindling few not to require the use of face coverings in public. These survey responses are a reminder that state leaders have a clear and decisive mandate to make the difficult decisions necessary to protect Floridians, and when it comes to next steps, the ball is squarely in their court.

Stephen Neely (srneely@usf.edu) is an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of South Florida.