An overwhelming 83 percent majority of American adults say wearing a mask is an effective way to protect themselves and others from COVID-19, but in practice, only 51 percent of people said they wear a facial covering in public.
Researchers at the University of Southern California’s Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research polled more than 6,000 U.S. adults to better understand how Americans have responded to pandemic changes. The study revealed that the beliefs of several thousands of Americans regarding masks don’t necessarily carry over to their actual behavior. Half of U.S. adults who had engaged in “close contact with non-household members” over the past week said they wore a mask during such rendezvous outside their residence. Slightly less, 47 percent, said they wore a mask when gathering with 10 or more people at an event.
The most common activity Americans reported doing outside the home was grocery shopping, where 90 percent of respondents said they wore a mask.
Two-thirds of the adults reported being in “close contact,” less than six feet away, with people outside their household in December. But among those people, only about half said that they mostly or always wore a mask while interacting with others. Only 14 percent of respondents said they gathered in a group of 10 or more people in the past seven days. But fewer than half of them wore a mask at all or at any point during their activity.
The issue of mask-wearing has remained a contentious source of anxiety, with many Americans following CDC health guidance and others challenging the science that says it slows the spread of the virus. California Governor Gavin Newsom was among many government officials who were chastised for issuing stay-at-home orders while simultaneously exhibiting hypocritical mask-wearing practices. Among those surveyed, only 42 percent of people living in rural areas who went out in public said they wore a mask during close contact with others.
“Of the 4 in 10 Americans who visited someone else’s home, only 21% wore a mask most or all of the time they were together,” the researchers wrote. “Though a large majority of Americans believe wearing a mask is an effective way to protect themselves from COVID-19, many still don’t wear them — including three in 10 Angelenos [Los Angeles residents].”
The USC Dornsife researchers conducted parallel research on adult residents of Los Angeles County between December 9 and January 6 to provide an in-depth look at hyper-local demographic differences compared with reactions nationally. The study highlighted several “large differences based on race and locale.”
White Americans were the least likely to consistently wear masks (46 percent) while in close contact with people who live outside their households. By comparison, 67 percent of Black Americans reported always or mostly wearing masks alongside 63 percent of Latinos surveyed who said the same. On a national level, 90 percent of respondents said they wear masks when shopping for groceries, compared to just 22 percent who say they put on a facial covering when exercising outdoor.
Newsweek reached out to the CDC and the study authors for additional remarks and information Saturday afternoon.