The Covid Canvas, Pt. 3

Jul 20, 2020

How have Americans’ attitudes about returning to normal activities changed in light of the uptick in cases? Dr. Don Vaughn surveyed over a thousand Americans about reopening the economy and returning to restaurants, airplanes, and sporting events. Consumer sentiment has broadly regressed in recent weeks.


  1. We used the Realtime Research™ survey unit to ask Americans when they would consider returning to a variety of normal activities.
  2. Respondents are more likely to return soon to low-density activities such as going to the dentist and getting a haircut.
  3. There has been a broad regression in consumer sentiment in June.
  4. Respondents continue trusting the CDC and believe their state’s reopening plans are moving forward too quickly.

Three weeks ago, we again asked Americans when they would consider returning to various activities. Specifically, we asked them to predict at what point in the future they would consider going back to normal activities like dining at restaurants, going to the gym, and going to large sporting events. We found that a majority of Americans were increasingly willing to return to these activities, relative to the period 2 weeks prior. However, a majority of respondents already have cancelled their summer plans and used their stimulus checks to pay bills. We showed that Americans’ hesitancy to re-engage in certain activities was partially explained by density—both the population density of the respondents' home state and the typical crowd density associated with the activities in question.


The COVID Canvas, Part 3

From June 23th to June 30th, we used a Realtime Research™ survey to re-canvas Americans about their intentions to resume participation in various activities. Invisibly Realtime Research™ surveys differ from traditional online surveys in that the questions are shown to the user on webpages in place of an ad (Figure 1). Unlike Google Surveys, which block access to content until the questions are answered, Realtime Research™ are optional, thus ensuring that participants are responding voluntarily.

We asked Americans when they would consider visiting the dentist, getting a haircut, going to the gym, dining at restaurants, traveling on airplanes, vacationing with crowds, attending sporting events, going on cruises, and a variety of other questions. Respondents answered each question by selecting “Now,” “1-2 Months,” “3-6 Months,” or “6+ Months.” Over the week-long survey period, we received 1,180 responses from individuals representing all 50 states.


Covid Canvas pt2 - Fig 1

Figure 1. An example of the 300x250Realtime Research™ survey unit. Questions are shown to the user on webpages in place of an ad.

Americans are still willing to return immediately to some pre-pandemic activities (Figure 2A). Many are willing to go to the dentist, get a haircut, dine at restaurants or go to the office. On the other hand, smaller percentages of Americans are willing to consider attending a large sporting event, vacationing somewhere with crowds, or traveling on an airplane in the immediate future.


We compared these results to our previous COVID Canvas results. To simplify this comparison, we combined the 4 possible responses into a single number—the Covid Consideration Index (CCI)—by assigning a value to each response: 0 for “6+ Months,” 33 for “3-6 Months,” 66 for “1-2 Months,” and 100 for "Now." This index measures how much, from 0 to 100, those surveyed were willing to engage in a given activity. In the time between the first and second surveys, consumer sentiment improved across many sectors including restaurants, vacationing, and sporting events. However, since then, there has been a broad regression in consumer sentiment in nearly all areas surveyed (Figure 2B).

Cc3 - Figure 2

Figure 2. Americans are ready to return to some activities. A. Results from our Realtime Research™ surveys suggest that Americans are more ready to return to activities that involve fewer people in close proximity than to those with denser crowds. B. Comparing these results with those from three weeks prior, consumer sentiment broadly regressed in nearly all areas surveyed.


We also asked Americans a set of more general pandemic-related questions regarding their trust in the CDC, their state’s reopening plan, their stimulus check, and their summer plans. Americans generally trust the CDC, but there is a cohort of respondents who clearly do not (Figure 3A). Many are nervous about the speed of reopening (Figure 3B). The majority used their stimulus check to pay bills (Figure 3C), and already have cancelled their summer plans (Figure 3D).

Cc3 - Figure 3

Figure 3. General questions about living in the pandemic. Americans generally trust the CDC, are nervous about the speed of reopening, used their stimulus check to pay bills, and already have cancelled their summer plans.



We show here that Americans continue to be more hesitant about re-engaging in activities that involve denser crowds. We found an decrease in readiness to re-engage in many areas. It is thus possible that full recovery of these sectors may require significant investment in infrastructure to mitigate transmission risks and allay the public’s concerns. Alternatively a significant decrease in cases may achieve the same goal.

Our more general panel of questions revealed that Americans generally continue to trust the CDC as an institution, but they were still nervous about their state’s reopening plan—specifically, a majority feared that it was moving too fast. Most respondents also already had cancelled their summer plans, and they used their stimulus check to pay bills rather than fund a vacation.

We intend these results to improve the predictive modeling of businesses across America so they can plan supply lines and hirings accordingly. We selected these questions to capture a wide snapshot of Americans’ plans regarding several types of economic reopening. However, the Invisibly Survey unit may be used to gather more nuanced information in particular business sectors. These data will be updated again in the coming weeks.

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