SHERIDAN — A recent survey from the University of Wyoming indicates about one-quarter of state residents believe the worst of the pandemic crisis has passed in the U.S., while nearly half say the worst is yet to come.
The proportion of those who believe the worst is on its way declined from more than two-thirds in early April. The survey included nearly 500 state residents across all Wyoming counties.
A consistent 10% have not altered their daily routines at all since the pandemic struck, compared to more than half who have made significant changes to their lives and about one-third who have made slight changes.
Braver Angels, formerly Better Angels, Wyoming State Coordinator Kris Korfanta said she has felt the weight of physical isolation within her own home. Her daughter continues to attend UW online and Korfanta attends virtual meetings regularly, so they “try not to step on each other’s bandwidth.”
Braver Angels is a nonprofit that works to depolarize American politics through civil conversation across both sides of the aisle.
Korfanta said she is watching her biggest concern unfold right now — fear combined with economic strain reopening a political divide. Energy and passion are natural reactions to stress, but turning those emotions into aggression and blame makes each person a piece of political ammunition, she said. The repetitive pattern tears down our “social fabric.”
According to the survey, the number of people who reported they or their immediate relatives lost employment due to the coronavirus continues to increase, up to nearly 40% of residents. Close to two-thirds say their hours or pay have been cut.
Nearly half of people say they now wear masks and gloves when in public. More than three-quarters of Wyomingites are avoiding physical contact and public gatherings and spending more time at home — the top behavioral changes COVID-19 initiated in the state.
Sheridan County Public Health Nurse Manager Debra Haar said anyone older than 2 years should wear a mask in public to provide a barrier between the mouth, nose and any droplets spreading from people in the vicinity. Regular hand washing and sanitizing are still highly recommended.
People continuing work in an office who spend more than 10 minutes within 6 feet of their colleagues should also wear a mask, she said.
Anyone showing the following symptoms should stay home, Haar said, even if quarantine is precautionary: high temperature, feeling feverish, cough, sore throat, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, muscle ache, headache, abdominal discomfort, vomiting and diarrhea.
Public support remains strong for school and day care closures and limited public gatherings, though support for a shelter in place order decreased six percentage points compared to two weeks ago, according to the UW survey.
More than three-quarters of residents said they would become vaccinated if a vaccine becomes available to the public, slightly down from recent weeks.
Among support for public officials, local government and health officials garnered the highest approval rate, with nearly 78% who said they approve of the way local officials are handling the crisis.
Gov. Mark Gordon followed closely behind with 76% approval, followed by President Donald Trump (62%) and Congress (nearly 42%).
Approval for all officials listed in the survey decreased since the last survey two weeks ago, with Gordon taking the strongest hit to approval.
Haar said while the future remains uncertain, public health organizations are using collected data about global “second wave” infection rates to inform agency actions.
“Countries all across the globe are experiencing waves of new infections after they attempted to remove their protective orders from the general population,” Haar said. “While protective orders are helpful, each person has to maintain their own individual personal responsibility throughout all of this.”
Determining what level of risk each family is willing to face is an individual choice, one that is as nuanced as the variety of ways the pandemic is impacting households and individual health, Haar said. Some contract the virus and report no symptoms, while for others, it ends their life. Some deaths are connected to pre-existing conditions while some patients succumb despite optimal health, she said.
As the public awaits a vaccine, Haar said world experts are “racing to develop answers to this deadly world threat” by evaluating vaccines, testing and studying antibody research and other potentially lifesaving treatments.
“Necessity is the mother of invention, and the world’s scientists are answering that call, but there are not yet clear answers available,” Haar said.
According to the survey, public perception of media coverage also continues to fluctuate — nearly 60% do not trust national news media, while two-thirds of residents trust their local news media outlet “a great deal or a good amount.”
Korfanta said recognizing the biases that impede access to important information takes courage. Fact checking, listening respectfully to other perspectives and exercising compassion can help create a more complete picture of today’s issues, she said.
Fewer people choosing to support local media outlets through subscriptions often turn to free media, which lack the connection to individual communities and are often the catalysts for “division and tribalism,” Korfanta said.
Haar said states face a “heavy burden” this week as each evaluates Trump’s messages about reopening the country along with the potential consequences of any decision.
Haar suggested no matter what decisions are made in government, each citizen should reflect on the question, “Did I do everything I could to protect myself, my loved ones and my community?”