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Poll: Tampa Bay residents want social distancing — even if it hurts business and threatens jobs

Most respondents want contact tracing, but far fewer are OK with GPS tracking.

A majority of Tampa Bay residents think social distancing should continue indefinitely amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic regardless of impacts to the economy, according to a poll by the Tampa Bay Partnership in collaboration with the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, United Way Suncoast and the USF Muma College of Business.

A survey found 58% of residents want social distancing measures to be in place even if it means businesses will suffer and jobs will be lost.

Respondents are not taking advantage of new openings either, according to the poll. Only a third of residents said they had visited a friend or family member since statewide orders began lifting May 4. Just 30% reported shopping inside a retail outlet and far fewer engaged in other newly opened activities, which includes dining.

Hair and nail salons show the lowest engagement with just 10% of respondents taking advantage of those services since they reopened. Only 11% have gone to the beach, 14% to a restaurant, 18% to a public park and 19% to a doctor’s or dentist’s office.

More than a quarter of respondents (27%) said they haven’t engaged in any of the newly permitted activities.

Nearly three quarters of residents (73%) believe a vaccination is necessary to reopen the economy, but only 54% would be “very likely” to get the vaccination for themselves as soon as it became available.

In another contradiction, 61% of respondents said contact tracing was “very important” to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but only 23% of residents strongly supported the use of anonymous GPS tracking to do that. Another 28% strongly opposed using GPS data.

“We’re seeing a lot of mixed messages from the public right now, but given the circumstances, it’s really not a surprise,” said Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership.

“This is an unprecedented event and people are generally overwhelmed by the situation. They’re hearing conflicting messages from government leaders and public health officials. They’re worried about their jobs and uncertain about the future. We’re facing a long road to recovery and this is just the beginning.”

Additional findings include:

— 49% of residents remain “very concerned” about the virus, but concerns about finding food and supplies dropped 17% over the last six weeks.

— The number of people worried about losing their job has gone up 13% in the last two weeks.

— Among those who have already lost jobs, 48% have applied for unemployment assistance, but only 22% received it.

— 24% of newly unemployed residents have sought rent or mortgage deferrals, 23% have received food from a food bank and 22% have postponed filling a prescription to cut household costs.

Downs & St. Germain Research in Tallahassee conducted the survey among a demographically representative group of 384 adult residents in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties.

The poll was conducted May 13-15 and has a 5% margin of error.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at Janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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