There is a growing optimism around Tampa Bay for the region’s recovery from the pandemic, but hesitancy toward the COVID-19 vaccine may be threatening a safe return, according to a recently released poll from the Tampa Bay Partnership.
The study, part of the State of the Region initiative, showed that 44% of Tampa Bay residents believe the COVID-19 situation is “near the end,” and 52% believe it will improve in the next 60 days. Nearly three quarters of all residents now feel comfortable participating in common activities like visiting friends and family (71%) or going to the grocery store (70%), the survey reports.
But, residents who say they are unlikely to get vaccinated are significantly more likely to be “very comfortable” engaging in these activities, compared to those who have already been vaccinated.
“With widespread distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, the end of the pandemic feels closer than ever, and residents are clearly seeking a return to pre-pandemic ‘normalcy,'” Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, said in a statement. “But this data should signal to our elected officials and community leaders that we need to reach out more effectively to certain segments of our population to increase adoption of the vaccine and prevent future spread.”
More residents have also either received or are planning to receive a COVID-19 vaccination — 76% compared to only 69% in late January. But, that number is not equal among all residents.
The study found that 43% percent of Black residents and 36% of younger folks, 18-34-year-olds, are “not likely” to get vaccinated, compared to 24% of residents overall.
Why? Those who are hesitant point to concerns about the vaccine’s side effects (63%) and a need for more information (47%).
The study also highlighted the virus’ impact on Hispanic residents. Fifty-four percent of Hispanic/Latino residents said they personally know someone who has been hospitalized or died due to COVID-19, compared to 45% of all residents.
As far as responding to the rising number of variant cases, Tampa Bay residents say they’d be most supportive of individual virus mitigation tactics, such as requiring the use of face masks (66%) and social distancing (61%). However, residents signaled minimal support for closures of any kind, including schools (35%), businesses (34%) or public parks and beaches (27%).
The feelings against closures make sense: In the past year, 31% of Tampa Bay residents were laid off or temporarily furloughed due to COVID-19, and among those residents, only 40% found a new job or returned to their old job.
Despite the negative economic impact, residents seem to be happy with local government response. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor continued to receive the highest positive ratings among federal, state and local elected officials for her handling of the pandemic (44%), followed by President Joe Biden (41%) and Governor Ron DeSantis (37%).
The COVID-19 Tampa Bay Sentiment Survey is produced in collaboration with the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, United Way Suncoast and USF Muma College of Business.
Downs & St. Germain Research of Tallahassee surveyed a demographically representative group of 384 adult residents in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties March 31-April 1. The survey has a 5% margin of error. This is the seventh such survey tracking the impact of COVID-19 on the region.