Anchorage residents responding to cell phone surveys by the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research have been asked a variety of questions about their behavior through the months of pandemic.
Are they wearing masks in public? Are they avoiding public altogether? What about shaking hands, hugging or gathering together for the holidays?
And the survey says… more people are being more careful than you might think.
Dr. Katie Cueva is a professor of public health policy with ISER and has been working on the surveys, to describe people’s behavior and help inform decisions. She says in recent surveys, Anchorage residents reported being more cautious.
Read the full transcript, with minor edits for clarity:
Dr. Katie Cueva: We ask about certain things like, ‘are you comfortable with your kids going to school or having a meeting in person around a boardroom table, or shaking hands, going to the movies going to a gathering with more than 10 people?’
And people, for the most part are pretty uncomfortable with those things. And I think that really speaks to people’s perception that COVID-19 is serious. So even if we were to change mandates, say open up more things, open up movie theaters, or allow in-person dining again, there’s just not a lot of people that are comfortable doing those things, because they’re worried about the risk to themselves and their families.
Casey Grove: That seems really important when you talk about the economic impact of COVID-19. And whether it even makes sense to open stuff up. Like you said, I mean, maybe if people don’t even want to go to restaurants or don’t want to go to the movie theaters, then that argument kind of changes.
KC: Yeah. There really isn’t a dichotomy between public health and the economy, what’s best for the economy is getting the virus under control. There have been a lot of economic studies that have shown that
CG: I understand you’ve been asking people about their morale, which it’ll it kind of sounds funny to me to ask like ‘how’s your morale doing?’ But I think it sounded like in November, it had gone down a little bit, jus slightly. But where are we at now? I mean, the vaccine has come out people are starting to get vaccinated have have people been saying that their morale is better or is it gotten worse or what?
KC: Well, unfortunately, our last survey was just at the beginning of December. So we don’t have any data yet on what’s happened since the vaccine has come out. Hopefully, if there’s another survey in the new year, we’ll start to see some of the impact of that. But you’re right that it has dipped just a little bit. So we first started asking these questions back in May was about 80% of people so that their household had a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ morale. And that has been dropping just slightly over time until we ended up with right around 70% of people who said their household morale was ‘good’ or ‘very good’, which in my mind, makes sense. You know, as this drags on longer and longer, it’s harder to kind of keep your spirits up.
CG: So part of the survey, too, is asking folks if they’re going to be participating in gatherings around holidays. And before Thanksgiving that was talking about Thanksgiving, and now we’re a few days away from Christmas. We’re in the middle of Hanukkah season. So how have people been responding to that question?
KC: So specifically on the likelihood of gathering during holidays, our last survey in November, about a third of people said that they were likely to gather during the holidays and the beginning of December, that went down to just around 20%. People said that they were likely to gather and it’s been a couple weeks, then since then, so I can only hope that there are more people choosing to keep themselves and their families safe by doing things remotely.
We also had about 20% of people back in November, who said they were planning on gathering for the New Year. And our latest survey the beginning of December, that was around 10% instead. So those numbers have declined a little bit in the last couple of surveys.
CG: So you’ve talked a little about kind of what your take on this all is but I thought I’d ask again: when you take this all together, what do you make of this?
KC: I think it seems like most people are trying to do the right thing. There’s a small percentage of people that are at fairly high risk. We don’t know an awful lot about those people, but I can only assume that they might have information from different sources or they might be in jobs or careers where they just can’t keep themselves as safe as they might like. But I think in general, you know, Alaskans, we’re really working hard to make sure that we get through this and come out on the other side with as many people healthy as possible.