January 25, 2021

Map: Are your state's residents social distancing?

Daily Briefing

    People are more assiduously following coronavirus countermeasures, such as wearing masks and social distancing, but adherence isn't climbing fast enough to stem the novel coronavirus' spread, according to new research.

    Are two face masks better than one? Here's what researchers say.

    The public's mask-wearing is inconsistent

    According to research from the Understanding Coronavirus in America Study conducted by the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR), 83% of Americans say wearing a mask is an effective way to prevent infection from the novel coronavirus, yet their mask-wearing seems inconsistent.

    For example, two-thirds of the 6,078 study participants said they had been within less than six feet of people outside of their household in early December, but just about half said they mostly or always wore a mask during their visit.

    Similarly, of the 40% who said they visited someone else's house in early December, just 21% said they wore a mask most or all of the time they were there. And while just 14% of participants said they gathered in groups of at least 10 people, only 47% said they wore a mask most or all of the time they were together in the group.

    Adherence to some coronavirus counter measures continues to rise

    Meanwhile, research from the Covid States Project, a 50-state survey of about 20,000 people that has been regularly occurring since the spring of 2020, found that between December 2020 and January, adherence to certain coronavirus countermeasures continued to rise.

    For example, the researchers found that, among the 25,640 participants in the latest round of the survey, mask-wearing hit an all-time high of around 80%, and rates of people saying they went to work, the gym, a restaurant, or spent time in a crowded place with people outside of their household declined.

    However, researchers found that adherence to other coronavirus countermeasures remained less common than they were in the spring, including frequent hand-washing. Below is a map of public health guidance compliance based on the data collected between December 2020 and January.

    Discussion

    Experts said some of the findings were encouraging, such as increases in mask-wearing and declines in large group gatherings, but rates weren't where they need to be.

    "It's good news-bad news," said David Lazer, from Northeastern University, who's helping run the Covid States Project. "The good news is we've improved a lot in terms of mask-wearing and social distancing. The bad news is, to bend the curve they really need to be much better."

    Arie Kapteyn, director of CESR, said the findings of their study "indicate a need to redouble efforts to convey consistent messages about the overall importance of wearing masks, but more than that, where and when to wear them. Too many seem to lack a clear understanding of the risks posed by friends and family outside their immediate households."

    Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist at the University of Arizona, said the number of people the Covid States Project found were spending time indoors with people outside their immediate household "was a bit startling."

    Separately, Thomas Frieden, a former CDC director, said the findings show Americans need to step up their efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. "We have uncontrolled spread of Covid in most of the country, and there is a reasonably high likelihood that the new, more infectious strain from the United Kingdom or other highly infectious strains may gain a foothold here and make a really bad situation even worse," Frieden said.

    "We need to not just do more of the same," he added. "We need to do better of the same" (Key, USC Dornsife, 1/21; Stein, "Shots," NPR, 1/15).

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