We have officially hit the one-year mark for COVID-19 restrictions and shutdowns. What started out as a call for “two weeks to flatten the curve” blended into many weeks of stay-at-home orders, restrictions on group gatherings and canceled travel. Remote learning, remote work, mask-wearing and social distancing became part of our nation’s fabric.
Ask the question, “When will life return to normal?” and you will get a divided response. A survey by HealthCareInsider, a health insurance website, shows Americans are uncertain about when we will return to post-COVID-19 life and about what that “normal” will look like.
On the question of when life might return to normal, the greatest number of those surveyed predicted summer 2021. But that number amounted to just 21% of those surveyed, indicating a split on predicting a return to normal. Twenty percent predicted a return to normalcy not occurring until 2022 or later. The remaining respondents were divided in their predictions — between fall 2021 (18%) and winter 2021 (11%).
Slightly more than one in 10 respondents (11%) were optimistic about a return to normal, predicting it would occur as early as spring 2021. But 7% were more pessimistic, saying they never expect life to return to normal.
Jeff Smedsrud, CEO of HealthCareInsider, told InsuranceNewsNet his company commissioned the survey to get consumers’ perspective on issues that matter to them. He said he was “somewhat surprised” that the survey showed some pessimism on a return to normalcy.
“It’s showing people are not as optimistic that the ability to return to normal won’t be until later in the year as opposed to late in the first quarter or early in the second quarter,” he said.
That pessimism, he said, is “driven in part by this frustration that people are feeling that the vaccines are not coming out fast enough. And they are losing a little bit of faith in the believability of government and elected officials in terms of what they say is going to happen versus what they actually do.”
So, what does a “return to normal life” look like? HealthCareInsider examined 10 specific activities that were typical of pre-pandemic life, and asked respondents when they would feel comfortable resuming each of those activities. Here is what they learned.
1. No more masks. As for going without a mask in public, the greatest number of Americans, 23%, said they wouldn’t feel comfortable going maskless until 2022 or later.
2. Live entertainment. It has been a while since most Americans attended live concerts, sporting events or theater. And it might be a while longer if many of them have their way. When asked when they would feel comfortable attending live entertainment again, the highest percentage of respondents (19%) said 2022 or later.
3. Travel. Respondents also appeared to be wary of roaming too far from home. Eighteen percent of respondents (the highest percentage of respondents) said they would wait until 2022 or later before they felt comfortable packing their bags and taking a trip.
4. Family gatherings. Respondents were more likely to attend family gatherings of more than 10 before they would travel, with the highest percentage — 19% — saying they would resume doing so in the summer of 2021.
5. Summer 2021 is the target. Pluralities of respondents predicted they would feel comfortable resuming a number of “normal” activities in the summer of 2021, including dining and drinking indoors (16%), working out in a gym (10%), shopping indoors (14%) and hugging someone (14%).
But large numbers of respondents said they already are comfortable engaging in many of the activities listed previously. Two in five said they already feel comfortable shopping indoors, followed by 30% who said hugging someone and 26% who said they’re already comfortable drinking and dining indoors.
What does everyone most look forward to in resuming normal life? Getting rid of masks. More than one in four respondents (26%) said they most look forward to not wearing a mask in public. Next up were family gatherings at 18% of respondents, followed by travel at 17%.
Smedsrud said that he wasn’t surprised that people most want to get rid of mask-wearing. But he also found it “encouraging and inspiring” that such a large percentage of respondents said they miss seeing family and friends.
The pandemic caused many Americans to put off major life events. The greatest number of respondents, 53%, said they delayed holiday gatherings, followed by 51% who said they put off travel. Ten percent of respondents said they put off college or education, 8% having a wedding, and 6% having children.
Some Things Are Here To Stay
Some pandemic trends are likely to continue after the pandemic, the survey indicated. Working from home seems to be the most popular, with 26% of respondents saying they expected remote work to be here to stay. That was followed by online shopping at 17%, using hand sanitizer regularly at 16% and mask-wearing at 15%.
Smedsrud said the trend toward working from home coincides with the rise of the gig economy, which had been expanding even before COVID-19 hit. “It’s the idea that you can work anywhere, not having to go to the office,” he said.
But some COVID-19 norms will likely go by the wayside after the pandemic is over. The survey showed only 8% of respondents believe people will continue to avoid crowds, 4% said outdoor dining is most likely to continue and 3% said they thought moving out of crowded cities into less densely populated areas would be a trend.