Right now, many of us have some degree of pandemic fatigue — maybe we’re tired of having to remember to bring a mask with us when we run errands, or worn down (sometimes literally) from taking extra hygiene precautions like scrubbing our hands well when we wash them, and doing it more often. Even if we recognize that they may be necessary right now, some of us are eager to get back to “normal” as soon as it’s safe to do so.
But at the same time, it appears that many of us are so accustomed to pandemic-related precautions — and sold on their disease-prevention benefits — that we’re eager to continue following them even when the COVID-19 pandemic is over. That’s according to the results of a recent survey, which found that a surprisingly large number of people plan to carry on with some practices indefinitely.
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Support for masks, avoiding crowds
The new survey of over 2,000 Americans, by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, asked participants how they felt about continuing with a range of precautions that are currently recommended to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The researchers behind the survey note that even with the accelerating rollout of vaccines, measures that are already widely being practiced — such as wearing masks, physical distancing and washing hands frequently — will still be important in the coming months to drive the transmission rate of the viral infection as low as possible.
“While the progress we’re making toward recovery is exciting, it’s critical that we don’t ease up on the precautions that we know have worked thus far,” said Iahn Gonsenhauser, MD, chief quality and patient safety officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, in a press release. “Masks and physical distancing are still our best weapons for limiting spread.”
With the need for continued preventive measures in mind, the survey results are encouraging. A surprisingly high 72% of participants said they intend to continue to wear a mask in public once the pandemic is over, while 80% say they intend to avoid crowds going forward. What’s more, 90% plan to continue washing their hands frequently and using hand sanitizer.
Gonsenhauer remarked that while COVID-19 hasn’t been entirely halted by these preventive measures — in part because many people aren’t following them — the current lack of flu cases, relative to previous years, is proof that these are smart things to do even when there isn’t a global pandemic. “I think a lot of people realize what we’ve learned from COVID-19 can be applied more generally to keep our population healthy,” he noted.
Why the eagerness to continue with masks and distancing?
There’s certainly little downside to continuing with measures like wearing a mask in public, or washing your hands frequently. In fact, wearing a mask in public has long been a fairly common practice in some countries, particularly in East Asia — both for people who aren’t feeling well and for those who don’t want to get sick. But it wasn’t clear that Americans would want to adopt these practices in large numbers going forward.
In a sense, these survey results show how much the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how Americans feel about hygiene and public spaces. After nearly a year of pandemic-related restrictions, many of us are so used to taking precautions that we might feel uncomfortable — even “naked” in a sense — entering certain spaces without a mask, or getting too close to people who aren’t in our household. While these feelings may change over time, for now they still seem to be strongly entrenched in many people.
Of course, the pandemic has brought not just inconveniences like having to wear a mask, but also new conveniences like expanded shopping options and virtual doctor visits. All indications are that even if people eventually grow tired of some disease prevention measures, they’ll still want many of the options they’ve grown accustomed to having as consumers.
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