Most Americans Resumed Risky Activities Before COVID Vaccines Released

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A new study identifies various factors that played a role in the resumption of risky travel and leisure behaviors during the pandemic.

After months of closures and quarantines, many Americans were eager to resume normal activities, even as public health experts continued to warn the public that the COVID-19 pandemic was not over.

The study finds that despite these warnings, the majority of Americans resumed their unsafe social and travel activities before vaccines were available.

Jay E. Maddock of Texas A&M University School of Public Health and Courtney Suess of the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences conducted a cross-sectional survey of 2,589 American adults in late November and early December 2020.

The survey asked respondents when they planned to resume certain activities, as well as questions about perceived sensitivity to COVID-19, political ideology and demographic information.

More than half of those surveyed, 60.3%, said they had resumed or intended to resume at least one risky travel or leisure behavior before vaccines were available, and about one in six, 17 , 5%, had engaged in four or more risky behaviors.

Risky behaviors identified in the survey included eating indoors in restaurants, eating or drinking in bars, attending major social events and attractions, traveling by air, visiting family and friends by car, stay at the hotel, go on a cruise and take the bus or shuttle. Visiting family and friends was the most common risky activity, followed by eating inside a restaurant.

Being younger, fiscally conservative, or having less perceived sensitivity to COVID-19 were variables associated with whether an individual was more likely to resume recreational behaviors, such as visiting loved ones or eat or drink in restaurants or bars.

Higher education and socioeconomic status were associated with a greater likelihood of flying; this result was notable because a higher level of education and socio-economic status are generally associated with less risky behavior.

These survey responses show that while many Americans heeded experts’ warnings, many others chose to try and return to normal lives despite the risks to themselves and others.

Future pandemic messages focused on perceived susceptibility may be essential in encouraging protective rather than risky behaviors.

“Having the right messages and working with local, state, and national health departments and the CDC to really think about how we’re responding will help us be ready for the next pandemic,” Maddock said.

The study appears in SURVEY: The Journal of Health Care Organization, Delivery and Financing.

Source: Kelly Tucker for Texas A&M University

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