Survey: More Than Half of Americans Uncomfortable in Shared Spaces

NEW YORK—As the COVID-19 crisis continues and colder weather arrives in much of the U.S., a new survey fielded byDelos, a wellness real estate and technology company, has revealed widespread concerns about the readiness of public spaces.

Nearly two-thirds (61%) of Americans surveyed were not confident, or only slightly confident, that public spaces have the guidance needed to open safely, and 58% said they will not feel comfortable in shared spaces until at least six months from now, if ever.

Roughly seven in ten of the surveyed Americans (68%) are thinking more about the safety of shared spaces now than before the pandemic, according to the study, which was undertaken to provide a better understanding of public attitudes and the measures that managers of spaces can take to improve public confidence in health safety. Americans today continue to be wary of public spaces—with 56% being at least somewhat uncomfortable being in shared spaces, while only 44% report having some level of comfort.

The Delos survey of more than 1,100 American adults found that 83% would feel at least a little more confident in a publicly shared space if they knew it received a third-party health safety certification. Following the rules around social distancing is also a potential confidence booster. For an overwhelming majority of respondents (81%), enforced social distancing policies were an important factor in making public spaces safe again.

Solving the confidence challenge

“Consumer confidence is key to reopening businesses and getting back to a more ‘normal’ way of operating,” said Paul Scialla, founder/CEO, Delos, and also the founder of the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), which administers the WELL Building Standard. “There needs to be a holistic approach to today’s challenge—an approach that is rooted in science and that considers changes in behavior as well as upgrades in technology and third-party reviews.”

According to the survey data, one-quarter (25%) of Americans have no confidence at all that public spaces have the guidance needed to open safely. And roughly half (49%) are avoiding all non-essential public places, while one-quarter (24%) simply avoid going to any public spaces at all. Overall, about half of those surveyed believe the U.S. is getting less safe when it comes to COVID-19 safety, not more.

Looking inward

For now, Americans are largely comfortable with outdoor spaces such as parks, where 70% say they feel at least somewhat at ease. The picture can be quite different for other shared spaces, with many respondents indicating it would be at least six months before they expected to feel comfortable returning to stadiums (66%), gyms (59%), schools (54%) or college campuses (52%).

“From weather to venue type to timing, businesses and other organizations have many factors to address as they develop reopening strategies, improve the health safety of public spaces and engage with the public,” said Scialla. “They also have many tools and tactics they can use as part of a comprehensive strategy. But gaining public confidence will require some degree of proof—and that’s where certification comes in.”

Taking responsibility

The Delos study revealed that Americans are more concerned about someone they know contracting COVID-19 (87%), followed by contracting it themselves (83%). Fewer respondents but still the vast majority—three quarters (75%)—were concerned with spreading it themselves.

When it comes to responsibility, most Americans are not expecting businesses to shoulder all of it—with more than two-thirds (68%) of respondents saying they believe that a lot of responsibility resides with individuals, not just organizations. And as age increases, so do the expectations around individual responsibility with 59% of millennials and Gen Xers saying individual responsibility was important, compared with 69% of middle-age respondents and 80% of retirees.

As the COVID-19 pandemic persists and flu season begins, findings from the study offer business leaders and other decision-makers insights they can use to build their strategies and public confidence.

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