Poll Finds, Even With Vaccine, Massachusetts Residents Remain Cautious About COVID-19

SPRINGFIELD — Even with vaccines against COVID-19 becoming accessible to a larger portion of the public, Massachusetts residents are cautious about returning to pre-pandemic activities, according to the latest survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute.

The telephone survey of 415 adults, conducted March 1-31, found that 44% were still very or somewhat worried about contracting COVID-19, down from 64% in the last Polling Institute survey conducted Oct. 22 through Nov. 24, 2020. Fifty-four percent said they are not very worried or not at all worried, up from 32% in the fall survey.

The current level of worry did not vary significantly based on whether a respondent had received a vaccine to protect against COVID-19. Thirty-four percent of the sample reported having received at least one dose of a vaccine. Among the vaccinated group, 45% were still very or somewhat worried about contracting the virus, while 52% said they were not very or not at all worried. Among adults who said they had not yet received a vaccine, 44% were very or somewhat worried, and 54% said they were not very or not at all worried.

The survey, which has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus six percentage points, also found:

• Sixty percent of adults said they strongly or somewhat support the return of elementary school students to public-school classrooms five days a week, which has been underway in many schools across the state. Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they strongly or somewhat oppose the idea.

• A majority of residents gave the state and Gov. Charlie Baker a grade of B or C for the rollout of the vaccination plan so far. Baker’s overall job approval rating fell six points to 62% among all adults compared to the October-November survey, and the approval rating for the governor’s handling of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic fell five points, to 62%.

• Support remained high for cities and towns requiring masks in public places, with 85% backing the idea, 13% opposed, and 2% undecided. Ninety percent supported requiring masks in public places in the fall survey.

• Among survey respondents who had yet to receive a vaccine, 68% said they would be very or somewhat likely to get the vaccine if it was available to them today, and 29% said they would be very or somewhat unlikely. Among all respondents to the October-November survey, 59% said they would be very or somewhat likely to get the vaccine, while 38% said they would be very or somewhat unlikely.

• Perceptions of the safety of engaging in public activities, ranging from dining indoors in restaurants to working out in gyms with masks and social distancing, shifted slightly in the direction of greater perceived safety, but about half of all adults still view those activities as unsafe.

Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University, said the survey results depict a state that may be ready for life to return to some semblance of pre-pandemic activity, but that many adults are cautious about rushing too quickly to do so.

“More people are willing to get vaccinated, and there is some sense of diminished threat from COVID-19,” he said. “But people still remain worried about contracting the virus, and a significant number believe that the pandemic is far from over.”