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Life in the Time of COVID-19: Resuming Public Activities


With summer rapidly approaching, the United States is seeing more debate at the national and state levels about when and how to start reopening public life.  While public officials will be the primary drivers of when, in what form, and which businesses can reopen, public sentiments about the safety and necessity will ultimately determine which kinds of businesses are able to successfully resume activity.

IntelliSurvey’s most recent US ‘Life in the Time of COVID-19’ survey, conducted on May 8, 2020, asked a representative sample of Americans when (if ever) they would realistically be able and willing to resume various activities.  For each activity, respondents were offered a range of timeframes from “Within the next 2 weeks” to “One year or longer,” a “Never again” option and an “N/A” if they don’t engage in the activity.  By looking at the two ends of the spectrum, “Within the next 4 weeks” and “Never again,” a picture emerges of how people expect to behave in a post-social-distancing world.

Appetite for local personal services and apprehension about crowds

Overall, participants showed more interest in quickly resuming personal services that would presumably be available in their local communities, and which would allow for relatively minimal exposure to crowds of people, e.g., visiting the barber or dentist, dining in a restaurant.  Of less interest were activities that involve travel and/or large crowds. 

Some tension is evident regarding returning to gyms and health clubs, as this activity rated fairly high in both people likely to resume within a month and people who expect to never go there again.  Given the number of negative news stories regarding COVID-19 spread on cruise ships, it is perhaps unsurprising that participants showed little interest in resuming this activity in the short term, and that the percentage of people saying they will never take a cruise again was more than double the next highest “Never” rating at 15.9%.

Differences by Political Party in Readiness to Resume Activities

While participants of all political affiliations showed similar levels of reluctance to quickly resume activities that inherently involve exposure to large crowds, i.e., public entertainment venues and travel, Republicans showed significantly more willingness than Democrats to resume personal services (barber, spa and manicure services, in-restaurant dining and health club/gym workouts).  These results seem compatible with public discourse where the general tendency is for Republican voices to emphasize the importance of reopening the economy, and for Democratic voices to favor continued precautions to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19 infections.  Given that nearly one third of Republicans expressed willingness to go to a barber or hairdresser within the next four weeks – nearly double the Democratic figure – further research may be needed as to whether Republican hair or Democratic hair is more ideally suited to life under extended isolation. 🙂

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