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Most Floridians Remain Concerned About COVID-19, USF Survey Shows

Associated Press

A new survey shows that when it comes to COVID-19, a majority of Floridians believe the worst is not behind us.

According to the Emergency Preparedness Survey done by researchers at the University of South Florida School of Public Affairs,55 percent of Floridians remain concerned about the coronavirus. A majority also support placing stricter limits on public gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19.

USF assistant professor Stephen Neely, one of the researchers, says the survey of  Florida residents also reveals opinions about the upcoming election season. 46 percent report feeling that political candidates should not hold rallies in the state this fall.

"We'll have to watch how that plays out over the next few months, but undecided voters in Florida might be a little turned off by the sight of large rallies, and that could actually potentially have an effect on their perception of candidates,” he said.

Neely said of all the topics in the survey, the question of whether to hold rallies revealed the biggest partisan divide.

“Republicans are much more in favor of holding rallies than Democrats or independents,” he said.

According to the survey, 87 percent of respondents say they would also support a statewide mask mandate.

“This is about as compelling of a policy mandate as you're going to see, with 80 percent support, and it's spanning both parties,” Neely said. “We don't see a lot of really consequential issues these days where we find bipartisan support for specific policies. We might have bipartisan support for broad ideas, but not for specific policies. So this is a rarity in the current political climate.”

The survey also reveals a racial difference when it comes to support for keeping students learning remotely this fall. While 73 percent of overall respondents are in favor of keeping brick-and-mortar schools closed statewide, the number is higher among African Americans, 88 percent.

“We all know, unfortunately, the African American community has been hit really hard by the COVID pandemic,” Neely said.  “And a lot of folks are just saying, 'Hey, we view this as a likely way of spreading the virus further.' ”

This is the first year the USF School of Public Affairs has conducted such a survey. Neely said the goal is to help inform public policies.

Among findings of the survey:

Floridians are still concerned about COVID-19. When it comes to COVID-19, a majority of Floridians (55 percent) believe that the worst is not yet behind us; less than 25% believe that it is.

Trust in public health guidelines. A large majority of Floridians (82 percent) believe that prevention guidelines being emphasized by public health officials – such as wearing a mask in public and practicing social distancing – are effective at slowing the spread of the disease.

Most Floridians would support closing public schools. Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73 percent) indicated that they would support a statewide decision to close public schools this fall. A majority (54 percent) indicated that they would “strongly support” doing so.

Strong support for a statewide mask mandate. An overwhelming majority of Floridians (87 percent) would support a statewide mask mandate, with 73 percent indicating that they would “strongly support” such a measure.

Concerns over political rallies. With election season here, 46 percent say they feel that political candidates should not hold rallies in Florida this fall, while another 42 percent feel that rallies should only be held if they can adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Additional support for mitigation policies. A majority would support additional mitigation efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, including stricter limits on public gatherings (85 percent) as well as temporarily reclosing bars and restaurants (66 percent), houses of worship (63 percent) and beaches/public parks (60 percent).

Small partisan differences on COVID-19. Majorities of both Republicans and Democrats favor enhanced mitigation efforts, though some partisan differences exist. Republicans are more likely to believe the worst is behind us with regard to COVID-19 and slightly less likely to believe that public health guidance is effective at limiting the spread. Democrats are more supportive of a mask mandate, closing schools and placing stricter limits on public gatherings, though majorities in both parties support each of the measures.

For this survey, 600 Florida residents were surveyed via an online web panel using Prodege MR, an industry-leading market research provider. The survey was fielded from July 30 to Aug. 10, and the results are reported with a 95 percent confidence level and a margin of error of plus/minus 4.

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Cathy Carter is the education reporter for WUSF 89.7 and StateImpact Florida.