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Many residents say California reopened too soon and fear coronavirus spread, poll finds

A bar in downtown Los Angeles.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

A significant number of residents believe California reopened its economy too early and are worried they could get COVID-19, as cases and hospitalizations are again surging, according to the most recent tracking poll from the California Health Care Foundation and survey firm Ipsos.

The survey of 1,156 California residents, conducted June 26 to June 30 in both English and Spanish, reflects growing worries about the surge in COVID-19 cases over the last month as businesses reopened and people returned to old habits.

Californians’ attitudes on whether shelter-in-place orders were relaxed too soon is shifting — jumping from 43% on June 19 to 53% in the new survey. In the latest CHCF poll, 27% of residents said the pace is “just right,” and 18% think the order is being relaxed “too slowly.”

Seventy-one percent of Black people think the state is reopening too quickly, a significantly higher share than that of Latinos (51%) and whites (50%).

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Differences along ideological lines are particularly pronounced when it comes to opinions on whether the state reopened at an appropriate rate. The survey showed that 73% of liberals thought the state has reopened too quickly; 37% of conservatives said it’s been too slow.

“Californians are clearly worried about the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, especially as more and more people are returning to work,” said Kristof Stremikis, director of the Market Analysis and Insight team at CHCF. “There has been a noticeable jump in the number of people who think the state has been reopening too quickly.”

“This new poll also highlights widespread concerns with the ability of the health system to respond,” he added, “although most people believe they can get the care they need.”

The rising case numbers led to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order last week to close indoor restaurants, bars and other businesses in many counties, researchers said Tuesday in a news release.

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Some 77% of the poll’s respondents said they were concerned that they or a family member will contract the coronavirus. The level of concern weighs heavier for residents who have lower incomes, with 81% saying they were worried.

Researchers found that 85% of Latinos, who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, were at least “somewhat” concerned, with 61% saying they were “very concerned.” Ninety percent of Asians said they were concerned about contracting the virus.

Over the past week, the state has averaged more than 7,100 COVID-19 cases and roughly 70 deaths, records show. As of late Tuesday, the state had recorded totals of more than 284,000 cases and more than 6,570 deaths, according to data tracked by The Times.

Last week, Newsom defended his administration’s approach to reopening the state’s economy and said the initial stay-at-home order allowed the state to ensure there was adequate hospital capacity, along with ventilators, personal protective equipment and other medical supplies needed to handle a surge.

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“The whole purpose of the original stay-at-home was to buy us time, not put us into a permanent state of closure,” Newsom told The Times on July 1. “No one advertised that we would shut down the fifth-largest economy for a year. That would create a health crisis the likes of which the nation has never seen in history.”

He was not available for comment at the time of publication for this story.

The poll also discussed concerns about the healthcare system. Of those polled, 84% said that, if infected, they or a family member would have access to the care they need. Among those with low incomes — defined as income at or below 138% of the federal poverty guidelines — the figure fell to 70%. More than nine in 10 white residents said they were confident, compared to 73% of Latino and 83% of Black and Asian residents, the poll shows.

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The survey found that attitudes were mixed when it comes to the ability of the health system “as a whole” to respond to another wave of COVID-19 cases. White residents have the most confidence in the state’s healthcare system, with 63% saying they were “somewhat” or “very” confident, in comparison to 50% of Latinos.

With more sectors of the economy reopening, researchers asked residents if they were concerned about catching the virus at work and bringing it into their homes. Of the 38% of Californians who said they “leave home to go to work,” 75% were concerned about exposing members of their household. Eighty-four percent of Latinos said they were concerned about exposing their family members, versus 59% of white residents, the poll shows.

Researchers also said there were notable differences in the latest poll as to whether masks are required in the workplace, with 83% saying their employer requires them to wear a facial covering at least “most of the time,” and two-thirds saying their employer requires masks “all the time.” The results vary by ethnicity, with 89% of Latinos required to wear a mask at least “most of the time,” compared with 67% of white residents.

Just over two-thirds of residents (69%) who leave home to go to work said their employer has “done enough to ensure employees are safe where they work,” while 21% said their employer has “not done enough.” Nearly 10% of those polled said they didn’t know.

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Times staff writers Taryn Luna and Phil Willon contributed to this report.


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