A year ago, many of us thought an all-clear would be the end of the pandemic. The CDC would tell the public it’s safe to ditch masks and hug again, leading to people all over the world tossing their masks in the air like graduation caps. But in reality, when the CDC gave the all-clear for fully vaccinated people to remove their masks indoors, the public responded with mixed reactions. While the news was meant to be a gift for the vaccinated public and an incentive to the hesitant, some argue it was unleashed too soon.
So, what does this mean for our return to normal? We surveyed over 1,000 American adults to get their take on the transition and attending live events in particular. Let’s dive into what they had to say and what you can do to stay safe in large gatherings.
The road to normalcy
The pandemic has disrupted everyone’s lives for well over a year now. At first, there was a collective notion that we would pull through and return to our usual day-to-day. Instead, it has become evident that “normal” isn’t what it once was and that fear of the pandemic isn’t a switch you can simply turn off.
Even with loosening restrictions and postponed events returning, roughly 3 in 10 U.S. adults don’t feel comfortable attending group gatherings of 50+ people in the next three months. Women have more misgivings about attending group gatherings than men, with 33% reporting discomfort compared to 25% of men.
Vaccinated vs. unvaccinated
With the discourse around the pandemic becoming more and more politicized, two contrary perspectives emerged: there’s nothing to worry about, or there’s everything to worry about. One portion of the public has followed safety precautions earnestly, while others viewed precautions as an unnecessary inconvenience. We have seen science unfold right before our eyes throughout the coronavirus crisis — as new findings come in, policies change accordingly. Despite the process being in our best interest, the constant flux of rules left the public frustrated and confused. At times, it also caused miscommunication between experts, government officials, and the general public.
Unsurprisingly, differing attitudes toward the pandemic and vaccination affect the public’s comfort levels with attending live events. We found that people who don’t plan on getting vaccinated were significantly more likely to report feeling comfortable attending group gatherings than their vaccinated counterparts.
When it came to types of gatherings, such as going to the movies and festivals, both vaccinated and unvaccinated people said they felt most comfortable attending weddings. While it’s not entirely clear why weddings topped the chart, we can assume it has to do with family and friends. Of all events listed, weddings are the event least likely to involve strangers. Weddings tend to be smaller, more controlled gatherings, where guests know who will be in attendance. Movie theatres, graduations, house parties, and other large events are a bit more unpredictable.
The role of safety precautions
Feeling safe is an essential part of integrating back into society. Therefore, safety precautions are needed not only for the general public health but also to soothe fears and help people feel less hesitant about attending live events.
Though 10% of U.S. adults said they wouldn’t attend a group gathering despite having safety precautions, 21% would. Of all precautions, utilizing outdoor spaces was the leading safety precaution that would sway people to participate in an event, as 45% reported.
Safety precautions made the most significant difference to vaccinated individuals, with only 17% reporting they would attend a group gathering without any safety precautions in the next three months. On the other hand, 43% of people that don’t intend on getting vaccinated reported that they would attend group gatherings without any safety precautions.
Nevertheless, many unvaccinated individuals said safety precautions affected their comfort levels considerably. Eleven percent of unvaccinated adults reported that they wouldn’t attend any group gatherings until August of this year compared to 9% of vaccinated individuals. This finding suggests that of those that might not be able to get the vaccine or simply don’t want to, some are still very much hesitant about risking infection.
What should we do?
As a baseline, we should follow the most recent CDC guidelines and state and local mandates regarding group gatherings. COVID-19 hasn’t had the same effect across the country. Different communities have been hit harder than others, meaning safety precautions aren’t uniform nationwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests looking at your community’s vaccination and transmission rate before deciding which safety precautions are the best to follow.
Even if the CDC says it’s okay for fully vaccinated people not to wear masks and attend group gatherings, it doesn’t mean you have to. The road to normalcy is precisely that — a road. It may take longer than expected to get back to what we’re used to, like going out without a care in the world. But until then, remember that it’s okay to feel anxious about it. Take your time to adjust and follow any precautions that make you feel the most comfortable. Live events will be here when you are ready.