The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) has a glimpse into Oregonians’ actions and attitudes relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In two statewide surveys commissioned by the OHA, the results show a majority of Oregonians' are taking steps to limit the spread of COVID-19, but some are still wary of the efficacy of personal protective measures as case counts across the state continue to trend upward.
“Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a steady rise of COVID-19 cases in Oregon,” OHA Deputy State Health Officer Thomas Jeanne said. “When a virus is in a community, we know it will spread if people don’t take precautions. This increase in cases has reversed the progress we made in late summer.”
The study illuminated the patterns and behaviors of individuals around the state and gives the OHA a baseline to move forward with public health messaging to encourage residents to stay safe.
“We did find that Oregonians are avoiding large group gatherings, somewhat,” said Michelle Neiss, president of DHM Research, the company that conducted one of the surveys. The results of the DHM survey, which sampled 1,009 residents, indicated that 20% of Oregonians attended a gathering of 10 people or more in the two weeks prior to responding.
“Those are the kinds of events that are high risk and can further community spread which brings the virus into workplaces, nursing homes and make people sick,” OHA Director of Communications Rob Cowie said.
Overall, the survey found that people who gather together frequently are the ones who are more skeptical that protective measures help, Neiss said.
For example, 52% of respondents who answered that they are unlikely to quarantine if they contract the virus also answered that they do not believe it is necessary.
A separate survey focused on Latinx Oregonians by Lara Media found that 69.4% of the 468 respondents said they were very likely to stay home if they experienced any COVID-19 symptoms or were exposed to someone with the virus.
Of those who answered they would not stay home, 42.9% said they would not stay home because they are the only one in their household who works and they need to support their family.
“Keep in mind most of the people we interview are essential workers, which puts them in a higher risk of getting the virus,” said Victoria Lara, owner of Lara Media.
Of Latinx residents between the ages of 18-24, about seven out of 10 stated they were very worried about friends and family getting the virus more so than themselves.
About four in 10 respondents to the DHM survey said they would definitely get the vaccine if it becomes available, and about three in 10 of respondents to the Lara Media survey said they would definitely get the vaccine.
The important thing to focus on is continuing to take personal protective measures, Cowie said.
"Even when vaccine comes, it will not be a silver bullet," Cowie said. "We will all need to engage in these behaviors for a while."
Measures like wearing masks when around others, keeping six feet of physical distance between others, washing hands and avoiding large gatherings are all important steps in reducing COVID-19 transmission, he said.
On whether these results as a whole should be interpreted optimistically, Jeanne said it was a mixed bag.
“There’s good news that most Oregonians are taking it seriously, and taking measures to protect themselves and others,” Jeanne said. “However, with the increase we’re seeing, we know not everyone is.”
As schools around the state have started to reopen, the OHA has started to track and report which schools have had any cases of COVID-19. Fourteen schools in the state have had cases of COVID-19, six of those schools had only one case reported.
“It’s really a balancing act between preventing COVID but also making sure we’re getting kids in schools to the extent possible, Jeanne said. “We don’t want to open schools and have them close right away. It’s a big issue.”