With most of the U.S. population under statewide shelter-in-place mandates to help curb the spread of covid-19, you’d think everyone would have gotten the message to stay at home by now. And you’d be wrong.
A recent study by Wired found that, on average, one-quarter of Americans are still confused about whether they’re affected by an official stay-at-home order, an roughly 10 percent of people nationwide have not abided by social distancing guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) within the last week.
Using Google Surveys, Wired polled more than 100,000 people across all 50 states and asked whether they lived in an area currently under a stay-at-home mandate, which respondents could answer with “Yes,” “No,” or “I Don’t Know.” The outlet conducted the survey between March 22 and April 5, a period during which a whole slew of states adopted shelter-in-place orders, so results for some states were filtered to only include responses submitted after these orders went into effect. But while that may explain some confusion, Wired found that “even in states that have had such instructions in place for weeks, consistently 15 percent or more of citizens seem to misunderstand whether they are subject to an order.”
Statewide directives began going into effect last month, and while they go by a variety of names like “shelter in place” or “stay at home,” these mandates generally only allow people to leave their homes for necessities like groceries or medical care, as well as to exercise so long as people stay six feet apart from one another, as per CDC recommendations.
As of Thursday, roughly 316 million people across 42 states, a dozen counties and cities, the District, and Puerto Rico have been urged by their local government to stay inside, per the New York Times. California issued the first statewide stay-at-home order on March 19 following mandates in the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles, which triggered a wave of similar directives across the nation, including one as recently as Tuesday in South Carolina. My home state of Virginia—along with nearby Maryland and Washington D.C.—has been under a shelter-in-place since the end of last month after a previous “suggestion” to do so courtesy of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Obviously, few found that suggestion compelling, as Northam indicated while issuing the new ordinance on March 30: “It is clear more people need to hear this basic message: Stay home.”
Despite this, more than half of the residents in some states still don’t seem to be getting the message. This was the case in South Carolina, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Alabama, with Missouri leading the bunch with 65 percent of residents failing to correctly identify local public health advice, per Wired’s map of survey results.
More than 40 percent of respondents in Arkansas—which, as of Thursday evening, has not issued orders to stay inside—answered “Yes” or “I Don’t Know” when questioned on the subject. The results were similar in South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska, none of which are under statewide directives. And while New York Governor Andrew Cuomo didn’t mince words when issuing a statewide stay-at-home order more than two weeks ago, calling it “the most drastic action we can take,” a staggering one-fourth of New York residents appear to still be misinformed.
Wired also found that about 10 percent of America’s population admitted to going to a restaurant or bar, visiting other people’s homes, or attending large group gatherings within the past seven days. On average, this demographic was split between 55 percent men and 45 percent women, though men were significantly more likely to respond that they’d hosted a gathering or had gone to a restaurant, bar or community event within the last week.
With so many people still confused over local health directives, though it’s not a stretch to assume that some of these folks seemingly flouting social distancing guidance may be doing so out of ignorance rather than blatant disregard.