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Survey shows how Ohioans’ views on COVID-19 have evolved

Less fear of catching virus, but more concern about its effects

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across America between March and April, the percentage of Ohioans who perceived they were at risk of catching the virus decreased, according to a new Ohio State University survey.

But when questioned in April, these same Ohioans were more likely than they had been in March to think that an infection, if they did get sick, would seriously affect their health.

The Ohioans surveyed were part of the American Population Panel, a group across the United States surveyed regularly on a variety of topics by the Center for Human Resource Research at Ohio State. APP members are participating in a series of surveys to determine real-time reactions to the pandemic.

Some of these results came from 622 Ohio residents who answered the same survey questions twice: once between March 18 and 21 and again between April 2 and April 9. Other results come from only the April survey, which included 1,259 Ohioans.

“These results offer a unique perspective on Ohioans’ changing views and behaviors over the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Elizabeth Cooksey, director of the CHRR and professor of sociology at Ohio State.

Elizabeth CookseyIn mid-March, 27 percent of Ohioans rated their risk of catching the virus as high or very high, but this dropped to 21 percent in early April.

Cooksey said this may reflect the fact that everything about the pandemic was more uncertain when the participants were first interviewed.

“By the second wave of interviews, they understood more about what they could do to protect themselves, many were staying at home, and they may have felt a little more control over their life,” Cooksey said.

But Ohioans also became more concerned about what could happen to them if they did get COVID-19. Those who thought an infection would affect their health very or extremely seriously increased from 29 to 39 percent between the two surveys.

Cooksey said one noticeable finding was that the percentage of young people – those aged 18 to 34 – who said that the virus would “not at all seriously” affect them if they caught it dropped by more than half between the two surveys, from 21 to 8 percent.

“That suggests young people in Ohio were listening to the experts,” she said.

Ohioans expressed a great deal of confidence in their state officials to control the pandemic: 88 percent said they were somewhat or very confident in March and 89 percent felt the same in April.

Confidence in local officials grew from 71 percent during the first interviews to 75 percent in the second.

But confidence in the federal government’s response to the pandemic declined from 45 to 39 percent over the two surveys.

“It is important to remember that these were the same people being interviewed during the two waves of the survey, so the differences we found reflect real changes in the views of individuals,” Cooksey said.

Ohioans were much more optimistic that the spread of the virus would be “under control” in Ohio sooner than it would be nationally or globally, according to results from only the April survey.

In April, 53 percent of those surveyed thought the virus would be under control in Ohio within one to three months. Only 28 percent thought it would be under control in that time frame in the United States, and 12 percent globally.

“We’re hoping to do a third wave of the survey, and it will be interesting to see if those views changed as the impact of the pandemic became more serious in Ohio,” she said.

The survey also revealed how political ideology affected views of COVID-19 and governmental reactions to the pandemic.

For example, results showed that a higher percentage of conservatives than liberals thought they were at low or very low risk of catching the virus during both surveys. But the gap closed quite a bit between the first and second survey as more liberals no longer saw themselves at high risk.

There were also differences in how liberals and conservatives perceived the reactions of their fellow Americans to the pandemic.

Of the people in the April survey who said that most Americans were “not taking risks seriously enough,” 44 percent described themselves as liberal and 21 percent described themselves as conservative. In contrast, of those who said that most Americans were “overreacting to the actual risks of contracting the virus,” 16 percent described themselves as liberal and 38 percent as conservative.

In other results from the April survey only, 74 percent of Ohioans said they has been to the grocery store in the last 7 days. Of those who had gone shopping, 90 percent reported going less frequently, 86 percent said they sanitized the handle of their shopping cart or basket, while 34 percent said they wiped the packaging before placing in their pantry or refrigerator.

The APP recruited Ohioans for the panel used in this survey through a wide range of recruitment efforts. These results are weighted by age, education level and gender to make them more representative of the Ohio population overall.

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