2022 Bay Area Council Poll: COVID Fears Linger with Many Saying a Return to “Normal” Could be Six Months, One Year Away

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Even as the COVID pandemic recedes, almost half of Bay Area voters (49%) harbor concern about contracting the deadly virus and an even bigger number (59%) worry about family members becoming infected, according to the 2022 Bay Area Council Poll. Voters are also deeply concerned about the mental health impacts that COVID has had, particularly on children.

The number of voters who say they feel safe now returning to “normal” almost tripled from last year to 30%. According to the poll, another third (32%) of voters said normal will come within the year, nearly a quarter (24%) said it will be at least a year or as long as three, and 12% said we will never return to normal, a doubling from the previous year.

The poll findings may have significant implications for efforts to get workers back into offices and transit and reenergize downtown business districts and the many small local service and retail shops that have been decimated by pandemic shutdowns. Transit agencies, local leaders and business and other community groups are taking a wide range of actions, from creating fun public events to reducing fares and increasing service, to encourage the residents to return to public spaces and workplaces.

“Restoring public confidence for returning to work, transit, downtowns and all the other activities that make life worth living must be among our highest priorities,” said Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council. “We may never be completely rid of COVID and its impacts, but the time has come to move forward.”

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The Bay Area Council Poll found that 68% of voters are concerned about the impacts of the pandemic on the future of the Bay Area economy. Noticeable differences emerged among ethnic groups, with BIPOC (74%) voters expressing the greatest concern about COVID’s impact on the economy. Among white voters, concern registered 62%.

Voters are taking what appears to be a long view on COVID’s impact on the region’s mass transit system, which saw ridership completely tank at the height of the pandemic and struggle mightily to recover ever since. While there is an emerging debate on transit’s future and whether it will ever return to pre-COVID levels, voters in the Bay Area Council Poll appear optimistic the troubles are not permanent. The poll found 73% of voters say the reduced ridership is temporary and that sooner or later we’ll need it just as much as ever.

Some of the biggest concerns about the impacts of COVID centered on mental health. According to the Bay Area Council Poll, 85% of voters are concerned about the mental health impacts of the pandemic on children and youth while 79% are concerned about the mental health impacts on adults. Notably, concern for the impact of the pandemic’s mental health impact on youth is universal, with 85% concerned among all voters, regardless of whether they have children in their household or not.

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