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Economic Anxiety Index®

People are growing tired of COVID-19 safety measures, even as the virus surges

Kristin Schwab Nov 10, 2020
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People have lunch at Bottino Restaurant in Chelsea as New York City restaurants open for limited capacity indoor dining on Oct. 1. Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images
Economic Anxiety Index®

People are growing tired of COVID-19 safety measures, even as the virus surges

Kristin Schwab Nov 10, 2020
Heard on:
People have lunch at Bottino Restaurant in Chelsea as New York City restaurants open for limited capacity indoor dining on Oct. 1. Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images
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Gina Huff in Southside, Tennessee, is starting to avoid her TV — especially the news.

“Sometimes I hear it and I just turn it because it’s like, ‘OK, get over it already,'” said Huff of the media’s COVID-19 coverage. “It just seems like every day, all day, that’s what you hear.”

Huff admits she’s a bit of a media skeptic, though she’s not a virus skeptic. She wears a mask in public and takes precautions at work. But she says she’s relaxed a lot, and has even traveled to visit her kids. She’s just not so scared anymore.

“I guess faith is the reason I feel that way. If God wants me he’s taking me,” she said.

New cases of the pandemic are setting record highs as the country enters the colder months. Yet, in our most recent Marketplace-Edison Poll, taken before the election, nearly 17% of people said they don’t worry about the virus at all.

Lots of people are simply exhausted by the uncertainty, the isolation, the worsening economy and the fear of getting sick. Months of information overload, closings and reopenings and a recession have given way to COVID-19 fatigue.

“It speaks to an issue with human physiology,” said Shannon Suo, a health sciences professor at the University of California, Davis. “We can only stay on alert for so long and we sorta poop out.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, people were running on adrenaline, hyperaware of anything that could put them at risk. But humans aren’t wired to stay in a state of fight-or-flight for this long.

“So the complacency is real. But the complacency is dangerous,” Suo said. “And the key to this is moderation. Because this is a marathon, arguably it’s an ultra marathon.” She said it’s most important to stay vigilant about masks, hand-washing and social distancing.

“When we go outside, masks are on, we wash our hands, we got all the chemicals and everything else,” said Tony Burditt, who’s 64 and lives in Sealy, Texas. “Plus, we didn’t go around people we felt were taking excessive chances.”

Burditt and his wife have formed a social bubble with friends. He said he’s not worried about getting the virus, even though he knows seven people who’ve died from it, because we know more about how to protect ourselves than we did in March.

And he’s armed with something he says he picked up during his military career. “I have patience,” Burditt said. “I’ve learned to have patience.”

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

How long will it be until the economy is back to normal?

It feels like things are getting better, more and more people getting vaccinated, more businesses opening, but we’re not entirely out of the woods. To illustrate: two recent pieces of news from the Centers for Disease Control. Item 1: The CDC is extending its tenant eviction moratorium to June 30. Item 2: The cruise industry didn’t get what it wanted — restrictions on sailing from U.S. ports will stay in place until November. Very different issues with different stakes, but both point to the fact that the CDC thinks we still have a ways to go before the pandemic is over, according to Dr. Philip Landrigan, who used to work at the CDC and now teaches at Boston College.

How are those COVID relief payments affecting consumers?

Payments started going out within days of President Joe Biden signing the American Rescue Plan, and that’s been a big shot in the arm for consumers, said John Leer at Morning Consult, which polls Americans every day. “Consumer confidence is really on a tear. They are growing more confident at a faster rate than they have following the prior two stimulus packages.” Leer said this time around the checks are bigger and they’re getting out faster. Now, rising confidence is likely to spark more consumer spending. But Lisa Rowan at Forbes Advisor said it’s not clear how much or how fast.

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