CASPER — The number of people in Wyoming reporting that an immediate family member has contracted COVID-19 doubled between September and October, according to the latest version of a University of Wyoming survey meant to gauge public opinions about the novel coronavirus.
Conducted Oct. 6, the ninth iteration of the university survey administered by the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center shows a growing apprehension about the future and anxiety about the virus’s spread in Wyoming.
The university survey has been ongoing since March and tracks residents’ feelings toward the virus and its effects over time. Overall, public opinion hasn’t moved substantially on prevention measures like wearing face masks and social distancing, while frustrations with state and local leaders have grown at a consistent pace since the pandemic began. But there have been a number of shifts in public opinion since September.
The number of people who said a loved one has already contracted COVID-19 doubled between the September and October surveys, from 4.1% to 8.5%.
Still, fewer people reported being worried a loved one would contract the virus than in March, though that number rose slightly from September to March: from 51% to 53%.
Anxiety around COVID-19’s spread in both the U.S. and Wyoming has slightly increased in the last month. In the October survey, 38.3% said they were fairly or very anxious about spread across the nation, compared with 35% in September.
The increase was more stark when asked about the spread in Wyoming, with 37.4% saying they were either fairly or very anxious in the most recent survey — up from 30.4% in September.
The September survey was conducted on the eighth day of that month. In the time since, COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed in the state. There were 492 confirmed active cases of the virus Sept. 8. By Oct. 6, there were 1,088 active cases. Hospitalizations also surged in that time. Seventeen people on Sept. 8 were in Wyoming hospitals with COVID-19. By Oct. 6, 44 people were hospitalized with the disease across the state. Two days later, the state would reach an all-time high, with 56 people hospitalized.
As cases rise, however, some public opinion trends have remained consistent, such as feelings about face mask requirements. In mid-July, 56% of respondents supported an indoor face mask requirement and 36% opposed one. As of Oct. 6, 55% support the measure, and 37% opposed.
The percentage of Wyomingites who reported wearing face masks has decreased slightly in recent months. Sixty-one percent said they consistently wore masks in public, indoor locations in the newest survey, down from a high of 66% in August.
Less than 30% said they supported closing schools or businesses like day cares and restaurants. But more than 55% said they supported limiting public gatherings — still a significant decrease from late March, when support for such measures neared 90%.
Support for public officials has also been steadily dropping since the pandemic emerged in Wyoming.
The percent of respondents who approve of Gov. Mark Gordon’s handling of the pandemic has slowly declined since late March. Eighty-two percent of survey respondents supported the governor’s approach March 30, the first time the survey was conducted. As of Oct. 6, that approval has dropped to 60%. Those disapproving have increased from 4% to 35% in that time frame.
Similar trends are found in the public’s approval of local government and health officials. In March, 78% of respondents approved, versus 64% in the most recent survey.
There is one trend in the survey that has shifted very little over the last seven months. The vast majority of survey respondents have consistently worried about COVID-19’s impact on the economy. That concern did reach a new low in the October survey, but 90% of respondents still say they are concerned about the state’s economy.
That consistency hasn’t been matched in residents’ fears for their own finances. The October survey reported 65% were concerned for their personal finances, the lowest number since the surveys started.
The surveys are conducted online over 24 hours. Of the nearly 1,400 residents solicited to take the survey, 505 responded. Those surveyed are drawn from a pool established by the survey and analysis center, which enforces quotas to ensure those responding represent a statistically sound proportion of Wyomingites.