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Widespread Worry, Racial/Ethnic Disparities as COVID-19 Surges

photo - Woman Wearing Mask on Bus

The total number of COVID-19 cases in California recently surged past the hard-hit state of New York, putting this summer’s plans for a gradual return to normalcy on hold for most of the Golden State’s residents. PPIC’s most recent survey shows that the public does not seem to perceive much, if any, progress since the early days of the crisis. Meanwhile, compelling evidence of deeply embedded racial/ethnic disparities is mounting as California struggles to contain the deadly virus. Public support for policy solutions is limited by trust in government to do what is right. While public opinion can shift rapidly, current views are bleak across California.

Much has happened in the past three months, but very little has changed in Californians’ experience of the COVID-19 crisis. According to the July PPIC Survey, about eight in ten Californians report that their life has been disrupted a lot (46%) or some (37%) by the coronavirus outbreak—almost identical to findings in the April PPIC Survey (48% a lot, 36% some). About eight in ten are very worried (41%) or somewhat worried (36%) that they or a family member will get sick from the coronavirus—very similar to April’s findings (41% very somewhat, 37% somewhat worried).

Disruption and worry continue to take a toll. When it comes to concerns about a negative impact on personal finances, seven in ten adults say they are very (35%) or somewhat (36%) worried—again, closely comparable to April (41% very, 34% somewhat). Moreover, about half of Californians say that worry or stress related to the coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health (21% major impact, 30% minor impact)—similar to April (27% major, 23% minor).

Little progress has been made in dealing with the unequal racial/ethnic consequences of COVID-19, as the pandemic disproportionately affects the health and wellbeing of Latinos and African Americans. Statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention highlight the fact that age-adjusted hospitalization rates are highest among these two groups.

In California, Latinos are affected more severely across all of the dimensions mentioned above. Our July survey finds that Latinos (52%) are the most likely to say that their lives have been disrupted a lot by the coronavirus outbreak, followed by African Americans (47%), Asian Americans (45%), and whites (40%). Latinos (61%) are also the most likely be very worried about getting sick from the coronavirus (37% Asian Americans, 28% African Americans, 28% whites), and are the most likely (56%) to be very worried about the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak (31% African Americans, 31% Asian Americans, 22% whites). More often than others, Latinos (30%) say that worry or stress related to the coronavirus has had a major negative impact on their mental health (24% Asian Americans, 15% whites, 9% African Americans).

Figure - Latinos Remain Most Likely To Be Very Worried About Potential Impacts of the Coronavirus

As Californians are being asked to do their part in reducing the COVID-19 surge, one of the most contentious government policies—wearing masks in public—now has overwhelming support. About three in four Californians (74%) say that people in their community should always wear a mask when they go to public places where they may be near others (12% say most of the time, 9% some of the time, 3% rarely, 3% never). At least seven in ten residents across age, education, gender, and income groups hold this view.

Solid majorities across racial/ethnic groups support this public health measure, although whites (67%) lag well behind other racial/ethnic groups (80% Latinos, 79% African Americans, 76% Asian Americans). Moreover, inland residents (67%) are less likely than coastal residents (77%) to say that people should always wear masks in public places. Partisan differences limit support for this government policy, with Republicans (57%) less likely than others (84% Democrats, 72% independents) to support it.

Figure - Overwhelming Majorities among Racial/Ethnic Groups Think People Should Always Wear Masks in Public Places When They May Be Near Others

This unprecedented pandemic is still in early stages, and public opinion may quickly change. Adding to the uncertainty is this fall’s presidential election, which is a political wildcard given partisan polarization over how to manage COVID-19. As California’s state and local government leaders continue to grapple with the spread of the virus, the PPIC Statewide Survey will be monitoring the public’s perceptions, attitudes, and policy preferences.

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