Roanoke College Poll shows most Virginians concerned about medical, economic impact of COVID-19; see ‘normal’ as months away

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SALEM, Va. (WFXR) — According to the latest Roanoke College Poll, most Virginians think the Commonwealth has responded appropriately to the COVID-19 pandemic, but many of them voiced concerns about infection fears, financial ramifications, or the length of time it will take for society to return to “normal.”

Roanoke College released the poll on Tuesday, May 26, summarizing the results of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research’s interviews with 603 Virginia residents between May 3 and May 17 with a margin of error of 4%.

Governmental responses to the virus

In general, Virginians think the response from state government has been appropriate, but they are divided about the appropriateness of the federal government’s COVID-19 response, according to the Roanoke College Poll

Approximately 62% believe the Commonwealth’s response was appropriate, but 17% think it went too far and 18% think it didn’t go far enough. At the federal level, 46% think the response did not go far enough, 43% think it was appropriate, and only 8% said it went too far, according to the Roanoke College Poll.

Whether discussing the federal government (60%) or the state government (48%), respondents are concerned the government will move too fast in reopening at the expense of citizen health. Meanwhile, about one-third are more concerned that either government will reopen too slowly at the cost of additional economic damage.

Virginians are split regarding how the federal government should handle the nation’s response to the virus, with 47% preferring a national strategy and 46% wanting a regional or state strategy. However, at the state level, 60% prefer a statewide strategy rather than a regional or county response.

From an economic standpoint, 46% are more concerned that the federal government will spend too little money to boost the economy while 40% are concerned that the government will spend too much money.

Furthermore, 69% of residents said they would not give the government permission to track their movements to help track the coronavirus.

COVID-19—fears and expectations

According to the Roanoke College poll, 31% of Virginians know someone who has contracted COVID-19. Among those who know someone, only five respondents — approximately 3% of the respondents — had the virus themselves, but for 25%, it was a family member. In addition, 48% know a co-worker who had the virus.

Among those who do not know someone who has contracted the virus, 67% are very or somewhat concerned that they or someone in their household will contract the virus, with 62% saying they are more concerned that a family member will become seriously ill than that they will suffer financially under COVID-19 restrictions.

If the respondent were to become infected, 49% think they would be slightly ill, while 14% think they would be very ill, another 14% think they would be extremely sick and perhaps die, and only 10% think they would show no symptoms. However, of the five respondents who had the virus, four reported being very ill while only one reported being slightly ill.

As for an estimation of when the virus may be contained enough for society to return to “normal,” the poll says 4% percent of respondents thought we were already there, 6% think it will only take a few more weeks, 36% think it will take a few more months, 28% think it will happen in the next year, 18% think it will take more than a year, and 3% think things will never return to normal.

However, in order to make Virginians feel comfortable as we return to “normal,” respondents voted the following precautions as necessities: frequent cleaning (85%), social distancing (66%), regular testing (55%), a face mask requirement (49%), a lower rate of infection (40%), zero new infections (33%), or temperature checks (32%).

Meanwhile, 49% of respondents think coronavirus coverage by the news and media has made the situation seem worse than it actually is, 10% think the coverage makes the situation appear better than it is, and 8% think the coverage has been accurate.

Economic implications of COVID-19

According to Roanoke College’s poll, Virginia’s initial unemployment claims in April averaged more 100,000 per week, with job losses mainly centered in the services industry. Among the poll’s respondents, 21% report that they or someone in their household has been laid off due to the pandemic, 43% report losing income due to reduced working hours, and 18% report that they are struggling to pay their bills since the outbreak.

Businesses are also changing their methods in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The poll shows 34% of respondents report working from home for the first time and 49% report that someone in their household is currently working from home. However, only 31% of respondents working from home say that they would like to continue that practice while 57% say that they would prefer to return to the workplace and 12% say that would prefer a balance between the two.

“The labor market is in a COVID-related crisis, but unlike typical recessions we entered this one with strong economic fundamentals” said Dr. Alice Kassens, professor of economics and senior analyst at the Roanoke College Institute for Policy and Opinion Research. “Demand for goods and services are down and people are incentivized and advised to stay at home. Businesses are adapting by moving employees home, if possible, and cutting hours and jobs. As the country continues to open up, assuming there is no second wave, the economy should recover relatively quickly. Rather than taking a decade to return to pre-recession levels, GDP should recover within 2-3 years and unemployment should fall to 4-5% within four years because of the underlying strength of the economy.”

Political Polarization and the virus

According to the poll, Democrats are more concerned about contracting the virus — thinking they will become more ill if they do contract it — and are more likely to think that government is not doing enough to fight the virus or that the state and nation will reopen too soon.

“It is clear that Virginians have a high level of concern with the novel coronavirus,” said Dr. Harry Wilson, director of the Roanoke College Poll. “‘Normal’ is viewed in the future tense, and more respondents are concerned that the state and nation will ‘open’ too soon rather than too late. A majority think the state’s response to the virus has been appropriate, but they are split regarding the federal response. It is not clear if that is a mixed assessment of the federal response or a mixed response to the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, which shapes the response to most questions and issues today.”

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