The percentage of Americans who are sheltering in place and engaging in social distancing soared in late March as the public began taking the coronavirus pandemic more seriously, though differences between Democrats and Republicans remain significant, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation survey.
The survey found the pandemic is hitting Americans hard, with 39% saying they've already lost a job or income due to the crisis, 45% saying the stress is affecting their mental health, and 34% saying they've been unable to get needed medical care unrelated to COVID-19.
On sheltering in place, 82% report not leaving their homes except for essential needs, up 49 percentage points from mid-March to late March. Reflecting somewhat different views based on political identification, sheltering in place was practiced by 90% of Democrats, 80% of independents, and 74% of Republicans.
On social distancing, 92% of respondents said they're following some precautions such as not attending large gatherings, up 33 percentage points from mid-March. The percentage was similar across political affiliation, according to the survey, which was conducted March 25-30. Republicans previously were significantly less likely to practice social distancing.
The survey results show that coronavirus messages and orders from public health officials, politicians, and the news media increasingly have gotten through, though anecdotal reports suggest differences in acceptance across the states and between urban and rural areas.
"Most Americans are taking steps recommended by public health experts to protect themselves, and Republicans are now getting the message," Drew Altman, CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said in a statement.
As politicians and economists debate when to ease social distancing orders, a large majority of Americans want the country to prioritize slowing the spread of coronavirus over getting the economy going again.
Eighty percent said slowing the pandemic's spread should take precedence, even if that means businesses have to stay closed, while 14% disagreed. There were partisan differences, with 94% of Democrats, 78% of independents, and 68% of Republicans saying controlling the pandemic takes precedence over restarting the economy.
Across political affiliation, there was broad public trust in public health authorities to provide reliable information on coronavirus. Eighty three percent trusted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 78% trusted Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, 74% trusted state government officials, and 70% trusted the World Health Organization.
In contrast, confidence in the reliability of information from the news media and President Donald Trump split sharply by political affiliation. Nearly two thirds of Democrats but only 40% of independents and 33% of Republicans trust the news media to provide accurate COVID-19 information. Nearly 90% of Republicans but only 12% of Democrats and 47% of independents trust Trump's information.
Three in four Americans believe the worst of the pandemic is yet to come. Nearly 60% say they're worried they will put themselves at risk of COVID-19 exposure because they can't afford to stay home and miss work. Those most likely have this fear include healthcare workers and their families (69%), lower-income workers (72%), and hourly and gig workers (61%).
More than half the respondents worry they won't be able to afford coronavirus testing or treatment if they need it.