Majority of Americans Support Key COVID-19 Policies in Hindsight

A new national poll by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the de Beaumont Foundation reveals that a majority of Americans believe several key policies to stop the spread of COVID-19 were generally a good idea in retrospect. The poll, titled “U.S. Views on Pandemic Policies: Lessons for Emerging Outbreaks,” was conducted from March 21 to April 2, 2024, among a nationally representative sample of 1,017 adults.

The poll found that 70% of Americans supported mask requirements in stores and businesses, 65% approved of healthcare worker vaccination requirements, 63% agreed with indoor dining closures, and 56% supported K-12 public school closures. Overall, 42% of Americans say all four policies were a good idea, while another 37% say only some were a good idea. Only 20% say all were “generally a bad idea.”

Varying Views Across Political, Racial, and Geographic Lines

Views on these pandemic policies vary by subgroup characteristics, including political party affiliation, race, ethnicity, and metropolitan status. Democrats (71%), Black adults (62%), and people living in urban areas (55%) were more likely to say all four policies were generally a good idea compared to their counterparts.

However, there is some policy receptivity among all subgroups, with majorities of each subgroup saying at least one of the four policies was generally a good idea. For example, 62% of Republicans and 70% of people living in rural areas say at least one policy was generally a good idea.

Reasons for Disliking Pandemic Policies

Among those who say key policies were generally a bad idea, top reasons include beliefs that policies went on too long (84–87% across policies), concerns about political motivations behind policy decisions (60–81%), concerns about effects on the economy (68–91%), and perceived lack of personal choice for the people involved (75–94%). For those who oppose school closures, nearly all cite negative effects on children’s learning (97%) and mental health (91%) as major reasons.

Gillian SteelFisher, survey director and principal research scientist at Harvard Chan School, emphasizes the need for leaders to build on public receptivity and understand people’s concerns to ensure all Americans benefit from public health protections during outbreaks. Brian Castrucci, president and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation, adds that understanding what drives resistance can help inform the best ways to use and communicate about these policies in the future.

The poll also found differing beliefs about the severity of the COVID-19 threat early in the pandemic, with only 3% saying it was not a health threat to anyone and 37% saying it was a serious health threat to everyone early on. Those who believe the threat was more widespread early on are more likely to support key pandemic policies.

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