Surveys: Concerns about coronavirus in Oregon differ depending on race, political ideologies

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
Oct. 8, 2020 11:02 p.m.

New surveys released Thursday, sponsored by the Oregon Health Authority, show that behaviors and concerns related to coronavirus vary for Oregonians depending on factors like race, geographical location and political affiliation.

The number of known coronavirus cases in the state continue to be elevated in recent weeks. OHA officials said they anticipate reporting a “significant amount” of COVID-19 cases in the state Thursday, though they did not report a specific number in an afternoon press briefing.

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Customers wearing face masks exit Costco in Tigard, Oregon, March 20, 2020.

Customers wearing face masks exit Costco in Tigard, Oregon, March 20, 2020.

Arya Surowidjojo/OPB

According to the new surveys, most Oregonians are taking precautions when it comes to slowing the spread of coronavirus, such as wearing face coverings, but some people surveyed said they continue to regularly attend social gatherings.

“It’s a mixed bag,” said Thomas Jeanne, Deputy State Health Officer and Epidemiologist with OHA. “It’s good news that most Oregonians are taking things seriously… however with the increasing cases we’re seeing, we know that not everybody is, and we need to keep the messaging out there about how important this is.”

DHM Research conducted a survey from late August to mid-September of more than 1,000 Oregonians, including 400 people of color. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%.

In that survey, more than eight in 10 Oregonians reported wearing masks nearly all the time while in public indoor spaces, and more than six in 10 said they are staying 6 feet apart when in public.

Though, roughly half of Oregonians surveyed reported attending three or fewer social gatherings in the previous two weeks. One in five people said they had attended at least one social gathering of at least more than 10 people in the same time span.

An additional survey conducted in Spanish by Lara Media Services focused on more than 450 members of Oregon’s Latino community with outreach to migrant workers, workers in packing plants and others who might have not been reached with the other survey.

In the general DHM survey, about 42% of participants said they are “very worried” about the COVID-19 situation in Oregon. About half of that amount of people, 22%, said they were very worried about getting sick with the virus.

For Latino community members, the level of concern was significantly higher.

In that separate survey from Lara Media, 70% of participants said they were very worried about the COVID-19 situation in Oregon and 72% said they were very concerned about getting sick.

People in the Latino community continue to be disproportionately affected by the virus in Oregon.

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According to Multnomah County’s coronavirus dashboard, which compiles data from Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas and Yamhill counties, people who identify as Hispanic are the most disproportionately impacted compared to other races and ethnicities in the Portland Metro Area.

The most recent data show Hispanic people making up 36% of COVID-19 cases in those counties while only making up 11% of the population.

People in the Latino community also reported wearing face masks slightly more frequently than Oregonians in general – 87% versus 84%, according to the surveys.

In the DHM survey, Asian, Black and Hispanic residents all reported more concern about coronavirus than white residents and residents with other identities.

Outside of race, opinions on the pandemic in Oregon varied greatly among people with differing political affiliations.

Ninety-four percent of people who identified as liberal said they were “very or somewhat concerned” about the COVID-19 situation in Oregon. Eighty-two percent of moderates and 58% of conservatives felt the same way.

Thirty-two percent of conservatives said they were concerned about becoming sick with COVID-19 in comparison to 78% of liberals.

People who identified themselves as conservatives also reported attending social gatherings more frequently than moderates and liberals.

Overall, in all of the Oregonians DHM surveyed, 66% percent of respondents reported attending an outdoor gathering with “a few people” in the past two weeks. Slightly more than half of respondents said they had attended an indoor gathering with people in the past two weeks.

In general, a total of 16% of Oregonians surveyed said they had attended 11 or more social gatherings in the past two weeks.

“More than 11 times,” Michelle Neiss with DHM said Thursday. “[That’s] almost every day in the past couple weeks. … That’s an awful lot of risk.”

“Most people are following the guidelines, and there are a few people who aren’t,” she said. “The concern is that a few people are not following many of the guidelines which actually makes them very risky to be spreading COVID.”

Notably, only 39% percent of Oregonians surveyed by DHM said they will “definitely” get a COVID-19 vaccine, if and when it becomes available.

Robb Cowie, Communications Director with OHA, said the state will work to better engage people who are skeptical about taking precautions to avoid the spread of the virus.

“Both these surveys give us a baseline for moving forward and it’s our goal to do further research,” Cowie said. “We now know where folks are in relation to their views related to COVID-19 … That’s going to help us then determine how we move forward both with broad public outreach and education campaigns and more targeted efforts.”

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