Number of Americans practicing social distancing drops significantly: poll

More Americans are leaving their homes than in recent weeks, becoming less likely to practice social distancing regardless of stay-at-home orders, according to a new Gallup poll released Friday.

Fifty-eight percent of U.S. adults surveyed reported that they were either completely (17 percent) or mostly (41 percent) isolating themselves — a 17-point drop from a high of 75 percent during the week ending on April 5.

The poll found that the declines in social distancing were not just limited to states loosening their stay-at-home orders that had been implemented to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Among respondents who live in the 21 states that did not have stay-in-place orders as of May 4, 51 percent said they were either completely or mostly self-isolating. That’s a drop from 64 percent among people in the same group of states two weeks prior.

In states with stay-at-home restrictions still in place — such as New York and California — respondents also reported less distancing. The rate fell 7 points from 71 percent in the week ending April 26 to 64 percent the week ending May 10.

“Thus, factors other than one’s own state’s guidelines are evidently behind individuals’ decisions to get back into society,” Gallup noted.

Jeffrey Jones, a senior editor for the Gallup Poll, told USA Today that politics could have changed behavior in states with social distancing orders, as mass anti-shutdown protests have hit several states including Michigan, Massachusetts and Wisconsin. 

Jones also noted that social distancing “fatigue” and new allowances for people to return to work may have influenced others to leave their homes more despite orders in their state.

“In a lot of these states, even the worst ones, the curve has flattened a little bit,” Jones said, “so maybe people are feeling a little braver about going out than they used to, seeing what’s happened in the course of the disease.”

More Americans in the poll reported going to public places within the past 24 hours, including 30 percent of people going to their workplace, 49 percent going to a grocery store and 19 percent going to someone else’s house.

There has notably been no change in reports of going to restaurants —13 percent of respondents said they had — in the past three weeks.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents in states without stay-at-home orders believe staying home as much as possible is the better option, as do 77 percent of those who are currently living under such orders.

The poll was released as several states — Texas, Florida and Georgia  — have ended stay-at-home orders and begun reopening their economies.

A new analysis released this week found that new coronavirus hot spots are emerging in rural and non-metropolitan counties across the country, including in many states that are taking steps to reopen. 

As of Friday, there have been more than 1.4 million confirmed cases of the virus in the United States and nearly 86,000 deaths. 

The Gallup poll was conducted through interviews of 4,159 U.S. adults between May 4-10. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. 

Tags Coronavirus economy Gallup reopening Social distancing stay-at-home orders

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