Local, state and federal officials are urging people to wear face masks when they are in public as coronavirus cases and deaths escalate nationwide. New polling shows half of adults have already donned masks in public within the past month, while more people plan to begin wearing them in the next two weeks.
The Morning Consult survey, conducted April 7-9 among 2,200 U.S. adults, found that 50 percent said they have worn face masks in public spaces such as grocery stores and parks to some extent in the past month, with 26 percent saying they always wear a mask and 24 percent saying they do so sometimes. The other half of adults said they have not worn a face mask at all when out in public.
The poll has a margin of error of 2 percentage points.
Recent guidance on face masks has varied as the pandemic intensified in certain regions such as New York and the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. In light of nationwide shortages of personal protective equipment for health care workers, officials have been wary of advising the public to purchase face masks and therefore exacerbate the problem. During the early weeks of the pandemic, face masks were suggested mostly for those who were showing symptoms, were already sick or immunocompromised.
Late last week, however, the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended people wear face coverings, such as medical masks or homemade cloth masks, when going out in public. Los Angeles, Miami, the District of Columbia and Montgomery County in Maryland are among the localities that have taken the additional step of making face masks mandatory for customers at grocery stores, with some guidance also extending to pharmacies and other essential businesses.
A majority of the public (72 percent) said it plans to start wearing face masks in public places, such as grocery stores and parks, in the next two weeks. Out of that group, 54 percent said they will “always” wear face masks during this time period, while 18 percent said they would use the mask sometimes. Nearly a fifth (19 percent) of adults said they don’t plan to wear a face mask in public.
Majorities of adults in all age groups said they plan to wear a face mask to some extent in the next two weeks, including young adults, a group that received some flak when a number of members ignored social distancing guidelines and celebrated spring break in large groups. Half of adults in the 18-29 age group said they plan to “always” wear face masks in public over the next two weeks, with another 21 percent saying they will do so sometimes.
Among those ages 65 and older, who are considered one of the most vulnerable groups for contracting and dying from COVID-19, 58 percent said they will always wear a mask during the next two weeks. Another 15 percent of the older adults said they would wear one sometimes, and 17 percent said they don’t plan to wear one at all.