Mask use and vaccine willingness rise in the South with the COVID case rate

August 30, 2021, 8:08 PM UTC

With COVID-19 cases at their highest levels since the winter surge, Americans are changing their views of the virus and measures that might protect them from infection. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, Americans who have had someone close to them die from COVID-19 are more likely than those who have not to worry about the virus themselves — and they are far more likely to wear masks and less likely to reject vaccines.

Nearly three in ten Americans have had a close friend or family member die from the virus. Even more Black Americans (37%) and Hispanic Americans (34%) have lost someone close to them from COVID-19. 

As cases remain at record high levels in many Southern states, more Southerners have been wearing masks. After a sharp drop in the share of Southerners who “always” wear a face mask when outside their home since March, that percentage is back on the rise. Four in ten Southerners (40%) report always wearing a mask in the last week, up seven points from what already had been a rising number, and five points higher than the national share (35%). 

More Southerners are always wearing masks than are residents of any other region (Midwest 26%, Northeast 34%, West 37%). Among people who have lost a close friend or family member to COVID-19, the share who always wear masks is eight points higher in the South (54%) than nationally (46%).  

Openness to vaccines is also rising in the South, where knowing someone who died from COVID-19 has an especially pronounced effect on vaccine hesitancy. The South still lags the Northeast and the West in the share of adults saying they have been fully vaccinated (59% compared with 73% in the Northeast and 68% in the West), but the share of people in the South who say they won’t be vaccinated or aren’t sure has dropped six points in the last week (to 36% from 30%).  

Americans who have no close friend or family member who died from COVID-19 are 18 points more likely to say they won’t get vaccinated or aren’t sure than are people who were close to someone who has died in the pandemic. In the South, the gap is 25 points. 

Most Americans don’t think the pandemic will be over soon. Less than one in ten (8%) are ready to declare the pandemic already over, and another 8% say it will end before the end of this year. But six in ten Americans (60%) expect the pandemic will continue after 2022, including one in four (24%) who say the pandemic will never end. 

 Younger adults are only slightly more optimistic (47% of adults under age 30 expect the pandemic to continue past 2022). 

Democrats are more likely (81%) than Republicans (72%) to expect an end to the pandemic – though most Democrats don’t see the end coming before 2023 (66%). 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between August 21 - 24, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.7% for the overall sample.   

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