Americans Are Isolating Themselves Less, but That Doesn't Mean They Are Abandoning COVID-19 Precautions

Sensible social distancing does not require staying in your house.


"Social distancing" in the United States has dropped "significantly" since late March, USA Today reports, citing new Gallup poll results. But what that means is not at all clear once you look at the question Gallup asked, and the picture gets even fuzzier when you consider the findings of another survey that asked Americans about their readiness to resume something approximating normal life.

Gallup's poll, which was conducted from May 4 to May 10, asked participants to pick one of five descriptions for their behavior during the previous 24 hours:

1) "completely isolated yourself, having no contact with people outside your household"

2) "mostly isolated yourself, having very little contact with people outside your household"

3) "partially isolated yourself, having some contact with people outside your household"

4) "isolated yourself a little, still having a fair amount of contact with people outside your household"

5) "did not make any attempt to isolate yourself from people outside your household"

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they were completely or mostly isolating themselves, down from a peak of 75 percent in a Gallup poll conducted from March 30 to April 5. That number fell both in states that had lifted their COVID-19 lockdowns as of May 4 and in states that were maintaining them, although the drop was bigger in the less restricted states. But since isolate and contact are ambiguous, equating this shift in reported behavior with a medically meaningful decline in "social distancing" is problematic.

If someone who was not leaving his house at all finally ventured out for a walk or a quick trip to the grocery store, for example, he would be "isolating" himself less and might be having more "contact" with other people (passers-by on the street, employees and other shoppers at the store), but that does not necessarily mean he ran a significant risk of catching the COVID-19 virus or passing it on to others. If his contact was limited to waving at a neighbor, or if he wore a mask to the supermarket and maintained an appropriate distance from other similarly masked people, his odds of catching or transmitting the virus would still be infinitesimal.

If "social distancing" means complete isolation, the Gallup results indicate that it is becoming less common. But that is not necessarily the case if "social distancing" means taking reasonable precautions.

A recent Piplsay survey that asked more-specific questions suggests that Americans generally remain quite cautious about COVID-19 risks. While 53 percent of respondents said they were "very comfortable" with "returning to work," that was conditioned on "adequate precautions." Even with precautions, 47 percent were "not very comfortable" or "not all comfortable" with resuming work.

What about "using public transport during the pandemic"? Only 24 percent were "very comfortable but with adequate precautions," while 21 percent were "not very comfortable," 18 percent were "not at all comfortable," and 37 percent said they "won't be taking public transport anytime soon."

The results were similar for "visiting restaurants, malls, gyms, salons, etc." Forty-six percent of respondents said they would wait "a month or more after they reopen," 30 percent said they'd wait "a few weeks," and only 24 percent were ready to patronize such businesses right away.

The respondents also generally planned to continue wearing masks and/or gloves in public. While 24 percent said they'd do so only "when/where it's mandatory," the rest said they were prepared to use protective gear voluntarily for periods ranging from "another few weeks" to "another 2–3 months at least."

Whatever you think about the merits of COVID-19 lockdowns, they cannot last forever—or even until a vaccine is developed and deployed, which could take another year or more—because they impose enormous economic and social costs. Isolating known disease carriers for a couple of weeks is one thing; indefinitely isolating the entire population is quite another. Reopening the economy is largely about deciding what kind of social distancing is both sensible and sustainable.

NEXT: As COVID-19 Approached, CDC Asked Congress for More Money To Fight the Drug War

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Imagine how much better things would be if the government and media spent just half the time spent on avoiding COVID, actually educating people on the importance of viral load and how to increase their immune response. Now that would actually be productive.

    1. Hell, at this point they could have run a 1940s-style program and taken thousands of low-risk volunteers, given them the virus under monitored conditions, and then allowed them to return to normal life.

      Our nation is run by buffoons at all levels.

      1. Finally a proven way of earning money online. Yes! you can earn more than you think only by working just a few hours from home regularly.NXd I have been doing this job for like a few weeks and my last weekly payment was exactly 2537 dollars.

        See More Information Here………………………For More Click here

    2. Increase their immune response? You mean eat a healthy diet, exercise, and avoid HIV?

      1. So you are anti-gay?

      2. And avoid the gradual hypoxia that comes from obstructed breathing, since that triggers reduced immune response.

    3. Finally! A Proven Method For Making Real Money From Home, Even If You’re Brand New And Have Zero Experience. No Registration Fee, No Referral Needed. Limited Positions. Follow Instructions Here……………Home Profit System

    4. I am now making extra $19k or more every month from home by doing very simple and easy job online. You can join without any investment and start making extra cash online by follow instruction on this website……………Home Profit System

  2. Meanwhile Rolling Stone of all places writes the article Reason should write but lacks the courage to do so.

    1. Ugh. Matt Taibbi. He ranks just behind Glenn Greenwald on the list of the most notorious #TrumpRussia denialist phony progressives.

      Democrats aren’t abandoning civil liberties. Quite the opposite. They’re embracing the most fundamental liberty of all — the right of anyone on the planet to immigrate to the US at any time and for any reason.


      1. You slay me. Doy.

      2. This one was on point. A fucking plus.

    2. Hmm, when you’ve got fucking idiots going to protests and spreading a deadly pandemic among themselves doesn’t a police state begin to look a little more attractive? Yesterday, John, China had a grand total of 4 new cases of Covid while the USA had over 24,000. Doesn’t having a society where they ship gun nuts and vaxxers to the Yalu River Reeducation Camp for some fresh air and perspective just seem a little more enticing to you. I’m not saying I’m fully on board– just that I have my ambivalences.

      Which country will have more problems with anti-vaxxer nutcases and people whose children are just so precious that they can’t be bothered to get a vaccine like the other children of the unwashed? Would that be China or the US, I wonder.

      1. I am sure the Chinese embassy will still accept your immigration documents.

        1. How about a Reason-hosted web funding site for AmSoc’s travel costs?

          1. Screech would just use it for his legal costs from his kiddie porn troubles.

            Oh you didn’t know it was obviously screech?

            It’s obviously screech.

      2. A police state has no attraction. Ever.

      3. Eat a bag of dicks and then move to China you piece of shit.

        Oh and good luck not catching the disease there since the Chinese government has lied about their numbers since day fucking one.

      4. Only 4 new cases in China, AS? Are you really sure it wasn’t 5? Or maybe 6?

        Besides, the goose-stepping progressive-socialist police-state Governor of New York single-handedly murdered 24,000 old timers with his draconian forced-admission policies. That was nearly the entire USA death toll.

        Death camps for your political opponents and dissenters, of course.

      5. “China had a grand total of 4 new cases ”






      6. “Hmm, when you’ve got fucking idiots going to protests and spreading a deadly pandemic among themselves doesn’t a police state begin to look a little more attractive?”

        No. Hell no. It would be more attractive if we had more fucking idiots… the surveys that show majorities of people being okay with this nonsense that has gone on is by far the biggest concern I’ve had since the beginning of the year. We’re supposed to be better than that in America. Europe, sure, I’d expect this kind of sniveling fealty.

    3. Taibbi is a rare bird today: a left-liberal who doesn’t believe that relentless lies and propaganda are the way to go.

      I almost certainly disagree with many of his ideas for how to make things better, but I have the utmost respect for the fact that he has actual principles, stick to them, and isn’t afraid to tell the truth, even when it might be bad for his side.

      1. And one of the few 21st true journalists.

        1. Yep.

  3. Reopening the economy is largely about deciding what kind of social distancing is both sensible and sustainable.

    Fuck you and anybody that looks like you, Jacob Sullum. There is nothing sensible about the suspension of civil rights. Reopening the economy is about getting the Governors’ boots off our collective throats. Let the at risk isolate and protect themselves, they are not my responsibility.

    1. Your rights are largely decided by the opinion of top men on when you getting them is good for you.

      That is what Sullum is saying here. How that is “Libertarian” or any publication that claimed to be libertarian would publish it is a mystery known only to Sullum and the Jacket.

      1. John, weren’t you in the military? I didn’t join because I didn’t want to fight for a government that was telling me a bunch of lies and bullshit. You?

        1. Don’t you mean the USSR had disbanded their military?

        2. They didnt accept fatties until a few years ago, so you didnt have a choice.

        3. “Yes, I Didn’t Join Crowd. Then and Now.”

          What is it called when The Government of Yesterday was telling you a bunch of lies and bullshit and one dissents, but now cowers in house arrest imposed by the Government of Today based on similar lies and manipulations of scientific data by agenda-driven bureaucrats and politicians, and, to beat shit, calls the snitch line on the non-compliant.

        4. Hey remember when you got banned for posting kiddie porn screech?

    2. lol he might have a nice sister who bears a resemblance

  4. my s.o. is excitedly counting down to exactly 48 hours before to make her Monday morning gym appointment it’s like checking in @Southwest Airlines

  5. Brian Miller, school resource officer fired for not responding in the Parkland school shooting, was just reinstated with full seniority and pack pay. But the problem with modern policing isn’t the public sector unions… it’s racism.

    1. It can be both.

      1. Ahahahah we love that you were competely wrong and we get to mock you forever for your cowardice ahahahahahaha

  6. Another article written as if only NYC, DC, and LA matter.

    1. Fortunately, all to disappear with the next sea level rise–super storm–earth quake disaster.

      SFC and Seattle, too.

  7. I was hoping there would be a Covid article today.

    1. Really can’t have too many. Not like there’s anything else going on in the world.

  8. People here distance if possible but if not simply pass by quickly. No big deal.

  9. Thanks for sharing this amazing content.

  10. Americans understand the situation better than others. We understand the importance of COVID-19 precautions. We know what should we do and how during Lockdown.

  11. Turns out Michael Flynn IS one nasty piece of shit who was dangling state secrets to the Russians and DOZENS of IC types had requested unmasking:

    In an effort to Swiftboat Obama the Trumpists are concocting this “Obamagate” bullshit when Flynn was an outright Russian asset who would be swinging by his neck in earlier Colonial days.

    1. Hey look it’s AmSocs other soc.

  12. to follow up on Flynn:

    Former FBI counterintelligence agent Asha Rangappa posits that to the contrary of the Trumpian line, the volume of unmasking requests related to Flynn’s behavior, is a bad look for him—not the Obama administration. “This does not help Flynn,” she told me. “This is a long list of names of people across disparate areas of government who independently felt that the intelligence reports they were reading were so alarming that they needed to know—without knowing, by the way, who it was beforehand—[who] the person was that was engaging in that communication or activity.” Driving this point home, Rangappa asked of Grenell, “Why not go ahead and disclose the underlying intelligence report?” In other words, if the Trumpian line of attack is that these Obama officials were acting inappropriately and without cause, make that case. Of course, conspiracy theories don’t thrive in context. And transparency has never been the currency of Trumpworld; details be damned.

    same article

    That fucker belongs in prison with the other Trump Trash like Stone, Manafort, Cohen, etc

    1. Say what you want about her politics (she worked got the FBI, so I’m sure I would despise them), but she is an exquisitely beautiful woman. I literally gasped when I first caught sight of her professional photos. I had a visceral reaction similar to what I had to Jennifer Connelly in her prime. Drop-dead, fucking gorgeous.

        1. She does look like a young Jennifer Connelly, by way of Mumbai. Well worth the Image Search.

      1. Shes like a 6 bro get out more

    2. Hey look it’s AmSocs other soc.

    3. “Former FBI counterintelligence agent Asha Rangappa posits”

      No one cares. You lost lololol.

    4. Keep slurping that Obama dick you suck degenerate. I’m sure the democrats will respect you one day.

  13. 1. It is NOT ‘social distancing’. It is ‘ANTI-social distancing’.
    2. “if he wore a mask to the supermarket and maintained an appropriate distance from other similarly masked people”.

    OK, Jacob, explain this. The six foot distance was declared as a safe distance based on how far a contagious person could cough/sneeze.etc virus stuff without a mask. Back in those days of pre-history, cloth masks were declared useless, and it was only N95 or better.
    Now a miracle has occurred, and plain old cloth masks, from cutesy homemade imitations of a surgical mask to a Jesse James bandanna, to a dust mask from Lowes are saving the world. (even when ‘worn’ around the neck) I guess the virus got so big it no longer can get through cheesecloth. BUT if those masks are so effective they can be required by tyrants, why do we have to still stay six feet apart?
    I am looking for an answer that is better than FYTW.

    1. “1. It is NOT ‘social distancing’. It is ‘ANTI-social distancing’”

      I notice that the term “physical distancing” is gaining traction. It was used a lot in Gov. Hogan’s speech about the phased reopening of Maryland, for example.

      1. Its about fucking time. I thought I was the only one annoyed at “social” distancing. We misanthropes have been doing that forever. What the morons have meant from the start is physical distancing. Unless all the extroverts and agoraphillics suddenly changed their minds.

  14. Of course, the thing is, if we don’t have government to tell us exactly when and where we should wear masks, or wash our hands, or maintain our distance, we’d all be running around rubbing our naked bodies on each other and sneezing in each others’ faces.

    1. Not to mention sticking parts of our bodies into other people’s bodies. If anything needs government regulation and guidance…

  15. Well, I’m almost 70. I have survived the polio epidemic of the 50s, the great influenza epidemic of 1957, measles, mumps, whooping cough, chicken pox, the Asian flu of 1964, the Hong Kong flu of 1968, the Silent Spring, the Population Bomb, the coming Ice Age in the 70s, the swine flu of 1976, SARS, MERS, H1N1, Global Warming, Ebola, Zika, Climate Change, Climate Catastrophe and now the dreaded Chinese Virus, ALL WITHOUT any VACCINATIONS.

    I wash my hands as often as I did before this plandemic…when they get dirty. I have lived alone for the past ten years so I guess that would qualify as self- quarantine, but I have not taken any precautions for either my “safety” or for yours. I don’t wear a mask, and have no problem shaking your hand.

  16. Self Isolation is best but stays away from infected things and people also good

  17. I have not taken ANY precautions due to the evil Corona virus; NONE whatsoever.

    In my almost 70 years on this good Earth the “experts” have ALWAYS been wrong. The sky is not falling and has not fallen even though the “experts” are telling us so. I’ve seen a coyote in the field over there, but there ain’t no wolves about no matter how many times the “experts” have cried “Wolf”!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.