Rutgers-Eagleton Poll: New Jerseyans Are Well Informed About COVID-19, Majority Taking Appropriate Actions
New Brunswick, N.J. (May 20, 2020) – New Jerseyans are well informed about COVID-19, including how it is transmitted, its major symptoms, what to do if infected, which populations are most at risk, and how to take preventative action, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.
Most New Jerseyans are well aware of how the virus is transmitted: 97% correctly answer that being in close physical proximity with an infected individual, as well as touching surfaces that contain small amounts of bodily fluids from an infected individual, are ways the virus can spread. More than eight in ten (83%) correctly know it cannot be transmitted through mosquito bites. About nine in ten are aware that a COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available (93%) and that the seasonal flu vaccine does not protect people from it (91%).
Almost all residents know the two most common symptoms. About nine in ten correctly identify them as fever (95%) and dry cough (90%). New Jerseyans are less clear on whether other symptoms are indicative of the virus, however. Seventy-four percent believe a rash is not a common sign, while 19% say it is. Like many viruses, a rash indeed may be a symptom, but at the time of this survey, rash was not confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a symptom of COVID-19. Residents are mixed on whether nasal congestion – usually a sign of allergies during this season – is an indication of coronavirus: 45% say it is, while 47% say it is not. The latest guidance from the CDC does not include nasal congestion as a symptom. The complete list of symptoms offered by the CDC currently includes: cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell and, less commonly noted, gastrointestinal symptoms.
“Virtually all New Jerseyans are well versed in the basics that we have known from the very beginning about this virus,” said Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP) at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “The problem is, however, that what we know about the virus keeps evolving, with more symptoms being added to official lists in the last week or so alone. This constantly changing landscape can cause confusion, so New Jerseyans must continue to be vigilant in informing themselves about the virus.”
An overwhelming majority also understands the correct actions to take if a person believes they are infected. Eighty-six percent know that, as recommended by the CDC and health professionals, someone who suspects they have COVID-19 should stay home and call a medical provider; just 13% believe a symptomatic individual should immediately seek care at an emergency room or urgent care facility, which is not recommended by public health officials in most cases. Under most circumstances, symptoms of COVID-19 are mild and can be managed at home while practicing self-isolation. If an individual has an emergency warning sign (including trouble breathing), however, medical attention should be sought right away.
When it comes to identifying the groups who are most at risk, more than nine in ten New Jerseyans correctly believe that those over the age of 60 (96%) and those with chronic health conditions (98%) have a higher risk than others of developing serious medical issues if they become infected with COVID-19. Two-thirds of residents (67%), on the other hand, believe that children do not face more risks than other groups, while about a quarter (27%) believe they do. At the time of this survey, the health complications experienced by children were not well known. More recent evidence points to the need to study further the potential health complications in children infected by the coronavirus.
In general, 72% correctly believe that most people infected with COVID-19 recover without developing serious complications, compared to 18% who think most of those infected develop serious complications that require intensive care; another 10 percent are unsure.
When it comes to prevention, 31% strongly agree and 37% somewhat agree that they feel confident in their ability to prevent themselves and their family from becoming infected with the coronavirus. Almost all furthermore agree (71% strongly, 24% somewhat) that they know what actions to take to prevent infection among themselves or a family member.
As for what those preventative measures should be, virtually all are aware of the major recommendations by public health experts. One hundred percent know that experts have recommended frequent handwashing, 98% know that avoiding gatherings with large numbers of people and staying home if sick are recommended, and 97% know that healthy people should wear face masks in public.
Most New Jerseyans say they have heeded experts’ recommendations: 96% say they are washing their hands with soap and water more frequently, 98% have worn a face mask and/or gloves, and 88% have used more disinfectant, such as hand sanitizer and wipes.
Recommended social distancing measures have proven to be slightly more challenging for some throughout the outbreak. Eighty percent say they have not left home except for essential services such as food and medical care. Seventy-four percent have not invited anyone into their home who is not a member of their household. About three-quarters (74%) say they have either cancelled, rescheduled, or decided against making travel plans; a similar number (72%) say they have cancelled hosting or attending a large event or gathering.
“A large majority of New Jerseyans say they are following social distancing orders but not to the same extent as somewhat easier measures, like handwashing and masks,” noted Koning. “Social distancing will only become harder as the weather gets nicer, as more restrictions get lifted, and as residents take more calculated risks, so these numbers will undoubtedly change in the weeks to come.”
Results are from a statewide poll of 1,502 adults contacted by live callers on landlines and cell phones from April 22 – May 2. The full sample has a margin of error of +/-2.9 percentage points; the subsamples of 747 and 755 adults each have a margin of error of +/-4.1 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.
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