Hope in NYC: New Yorkers believe the worst of COVID-19 is over

We could all use more good news these days. Thankfully, the latest survey of New Yorkers conducted by the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy is offering up a glimmer of hope amid this pandemic.

According to the research, most New Yorkers believe the worst of COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror. However, that doesn’t mean everyone in NYC is ready to hit the parks and beaches; respondents also said they’ll remain cautious about resuming normal activities until a vaccine has been developed.

“New Yorkers are realists first and foremost,” comments Dr. Ayman El-Mohandes, Dean of CUNY SPH. “They know we can’t just flip a switch and go back to the way things were. Many people believe a safe, effective coronavirus vaccine is essential to restoring public confidence, which suggests that they know they are facing a fairly long period of uncertainty, even with the expedited vaccine development program now underway.”

This research is the latest in a series of surveys gauging New Yorkers’ reactions and feelings regarding the ongoing COVID-19 situation. The poll was held between May 1st-3rd and consisted of 1,000 NYC residents as well as 1,000 New York State residents (NYC, Long Island, Upstate).

Only 46% of New Yorkers think they are still at high risk of becoming infected with COVID-19, a significant change from 58% five weeks ago. Conversely, 53% admitted they know someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus. That’s the highest reported percentage thus far since this initiative began back in March.

Keep calm and carry on

Still, the overall results of this latest round of surveys are encouraging. New Yorkers appear to be calmer and more understanding of the situation they’re currently faced with, and optimism is at an all-time high. For example, fewer respondents reported feeling socially isolated (35%) compared to prior weeks (43%). Also, reports of anxiety and depression are down across the board. In earlier surveys, 40% of New Yorkers reported anxious feelings and 32% said they felt depressed more often than not. Now, only 33% are feeling anxious and 24% are still dealing with depression. Not ideal, but definite improvements.

Respondents were asked how open they would be to taking part in various activities if businesses were to reopen on June 1st, with the proper social distancing rules in place of course. Most (65%) would be willing to visit a doctor’s office, and 48% even said they would patronize a park or beach. Meanwhile, 18% wouldn’t consider visiting a public space until a vaccine is widely available.

Another 46% would visit a hairdresser in June and 31% are even open to getting back in the gym. However, 20% wouldn’t be comfortable in a gym until a vaccine is ready. What about restaurants? 31% are willing to dine out next month, and 23% would go back to a movie theatre. Somewhat predictably, only 16% can see themselves attending an outdoor event with over 500 people this summer. It’s also worth mentioning that, generally speaking, younger survey respondents were more willing to participate in the aforementioned activities.

So, while some are ready to get back to normal life, it’s also clear that a vaccine is going to be necessary before everyone is comfortable again. On that note, 31% of the survey’s participants said they would take a COVID-19 vaccine if it were available “immediately,” while 48% would consent to be vaccinated if their doctor recommended it. Also, 8% would take a vaccine if required to do so by their employer or school. That still leaves 12% who said they wouldn’t take a vaccine no matter what, and 82% of that group said they’re mostly concerned about potential side effects.

“When seven in eight New Yorkers say they would take a proven safe and effective coronavirus vaccine, that is cause for optimism. However, to reach that level of community protection we will have to mount a major vaccine education initiative. Our already overburdened physicians and health system will need support for the front-line communication responsibilities that our respondents expect their doctor to do. Meeting this health communication challenge will require almost as much effort as the vaccine development process itself,” says Dr. Scott Ratzan, Distinguished Lecturer at CUNY SPH.

Unfortunately, when the subject of food security came up, answers weren’t as positive. Since March 1st, 44% of NYC households have been worried about running out of food before receiving their next paycheck. This problem is most prominent among lower-income households (56%) and Latinx/Hispanic households (65%). Similarly, 30% of respondents flat out said they don’t have money to buy food right now.

“These findings show food insecurity levels in New York City three times higher than before the epidemic. This and our previous surveys provides further evidence that the COVID-19 epidemic is having a disproportionate impact on New York City’s Latinx/Hispanic population, who report higher rates of food insecurity, loss of health insurance and loss of employment than other population groups,” notes Nicholas Freudenberg, Distinguished Professor of Public Health at the CUNY SPH. “As the city launches relief programs, it will need to make sure they are reaching Latinx/Hispanic communities.”

This week the NYC council is going to hold a meeting to discuss possibly providing essential workers with $30-75 bonuses per shift. When asked about this idea, 80% of New Yorkers supported it. As far as where that money should come from, 60% think the city should cover the cost, and 40% said the stores should pay the bonuses.

All in all, there’s a whole lot to like about this latest round of polls. The results certainly aren’t perfect, but there are clear cut signs of improvement across a variety of areas. Hope is a valuable ally right now, and it appears to be on the rise in NYC.

The full survey can be found here. It is also published in the Journal of Health Communication.