UF Poll Finds We Know To Wash Our Hands, Still Believe Face Masks Will Protect Us

Mar 24, 2020

A new University of Florida poll has found Americans increasingly understand the severity of the COVID-19 coronavirus and, more suprisingly, 80 percent would get vaccinated to stop the pandemic.

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“That’s a lot more than were even willing to get the flu vaccine just last year,” said researcher Lauri Baker.

People also understood basic measures for protection: nearly all knew to stay away from the sick, avoid touching their faces and wash their hands.

But researchers were alarmed to find that almost half believed wearing a face mask in crowded areas would protect them from the virus. And while the survey did not include questions specifically about social distancing, Baker said it’s clear the practice is not being widely followed and needs to be better explained.

“Social distancing is not something we've ever talked about before,” she said. “We've talked about washing hands to our small children. That's a message we get. With things like social distancing, it may be a little more complicated. You may have to explicitly tell people, don't go to the beach. Don't hang out with each other."

Baker plans to include specific questions about social distancing in upcoming polls, which she expects to conduct monthly while the pandemic continues to better gauge how best to communicate warnings.

While no vaccine yet exists, Baker said the willingness of people to get vaccinated is a good sign, given the spread of the anti-vaccination movement that helped trigger dangerous measles outbreaks in 2019. The number of cases more tripled from 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is one of the first times in recent history where we have really seen that 'Oh, this is what a serious virus looks like. This is why I should be vaccinating my children,'” she said. “'This is why I should be taking preventative measures for public health.'”

Results also showed people increasingly turning to scientists, including their own doctors, the CDC and the World Health Organization, for information. About 10 percent still turned to TikTok, Baker said. But there's even an upside to that, she said. The WHO is now using the social media channel teens help propel to the top of the social media heap after it was launched in 2016.