How pandemic fatigue has affected social distancing, mask-wearing efforts: 4 notes on American behavior

Gabrielle Masson - Print  | 

Social distancing rates in the U.S. fell drastically as the pandemic continued, with an increasing attitude of apathy or resistance — also known as pandemic fatigue — for protective measures, according to a study published Jan. 22 in JAMA Network. 

Researchers analyzed survey responses from 7,705 participants completed between April 1 and Nov. 24, 2020. Participants were recruited from the Understanding America Study, an ongoing panel from marketing data on all household addresses conducted by Los Angeles-based University of Southern California Center for Economic and Social Research. 

Four key report findings:

1. All U.S. regions experienced decreases in COVID-19 mitigation efforts from early April to late November, with adherence in the final survey week significantly lower in the Midwest than all other regions.

2. The national adherence index decreased substantially from 70 in early April to plateau in the high 50s in June. In late November, adherence increased to 60.1 in the final survey week, though still significantly below the starting level in early April. 

3. Protective behaviors that had the largest reported decreases included having no close contact with non-household members, avoiding eating at restaurants, remaining in residence except for essential activities or exercise, and not having visitors over.

4. Reported mask-wearing significantly increased over time and may reflect improved public health messaging.  

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