A vast majority of Central Virginians surveyed say they have not been tested for COVID-19 and have no symptoms but a third of them say they have friends or family members who have tested positive for the disease, according to a recent survey by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.
The BeHeardCVA survey queried 683 residents of the city of Charlottesville and the counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson between April 28 and May 5.
The results released Thursday are in addition to those released earlier this week by the center.
As Virginia ramps up testing for the pandemic disease, using tests that trace the active virus and antibody tests that determine if someone was previously exposed, almost half of respondents felt that, if needed, they could get a test for COVID-19 in the next two months.
Almost 70% indicated they would likely get an antibody test to determine if they had previously been exposed to the virus when those tests become available in the region.
“Virginia ranks very low compared to other states in the per-capita rate of testing for COVID-19. That’s true in our part of the state as well,” said Tom Guterbock, academic director at the Weldon Cooper Center’s Center for Survey Research, which directed the survey. “5.3% say they have had COVID-19-like symptoms, but less than 2% of survey respondents have had a COVID-19 test.”
BeHeardCVA is the first survey panel in the state of Virginia. It is made up of volunteer respondents, some of whom were recruited randomly through phone calls and mailings and others who signed up to participate.
The panel is designed to give voice to the diverse population in Central Virginia.
Questions were formulated using input from more than 300 BeHeardCVA participants and suggestions from several local nonprofits, government agencies and health officials.
Not surprisingly, those who reported having friends or relatives testing positive for the coronavirus were most in favor of keeping stay-at-home policies and restrictions on business operations in place, with 86% supporting the lockdown compared with 14% in favoring of opening up for business.
Of those who don’t personally know anyone exposed to the disease, 69% favored the restrictions. Women were more likely to support the shutdown and men more likely to want to reopen.
Guterbock said he found the results interesting in light of this week’s decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court that overturned the Wisconsin governor’s shutdown order.
“It’s interesting to see what residents in our area think about the legality of the shutdown and stay-at-home orders in our state. Across the region, 62% say restrictions are fully legal; 23% think they are legally questionable; and 6% say they are clear violations of constitutional rights,” Guterbock said.
“These opinions vary across our region: In Louisa County, only 43% think the shutdown is fully legally, contrasting with 80% in the city of Charlottesville,” he said.
Opinions also vary across the region on whether Gov. Ralph Northam’s restrictions and efforts by the state to control the virus through social constraints is too much, too little, or just right.
“Across the region, 62% say the state is “doing the right amount” and only 14% think the state government is doing too much,” he said. “But in Louisa and Greene counties, the percent who say the state is doing too much is twice as high, while in Charlottesville, just 5% say it’s too much.”
About 75% of respondents said they trust Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials for information about COVID-19 and about 66% trust Northam.
About 70% of respondents said they do not trust President Donald Trump as a source of information on the pandemic.
Guterbock said it appears that the results are likely influenced by politics and geography.
“I believe opinions differ on the shutdown partly because of partisan sentiments; there are not many Republicans living in Charlottesville,” he said. “But they also reflect real differences in people’s circumstances, such as who is not able to work from home and whether you live in an area where COVID-19 cases are rarer.”
About 16% of the survey’s respondents own their own businesses. Of those, 60% said the restrictions have had either negative or very negative impacts on the business, and a third of business owners said they have applied for disaster loans. About 20% of all respondents who are employed said they could lose their jobs in the next three months.
While some communities have seen the wearing of face masks in public become a flashpoint, 96% of Central Virginians in the survey said they have a mask and 80% say they wear it at least occasionally.
About 90% wear masks at stores, 40% in any public place, 21% wear their `smasks at work and 19% wear them at hospitals, clinics or when visiting health care providers.
“There’s been some worry about the availability of masks for the general public but that doesn’t seem to be a problem in our area,” Guterbock said. “But only two-thirds say they wear a mask ‘frequently’ when away from home.”
Respondents also worry that their families could be impacted by the virus more so than themselves.
“This trend holds regardless of the respondent’s age, though we do see younger respondents reporting the highest average level anxiety, a 7.1 on a scale of 0 to 10,” said Kara Fitzgibbon, director of the Center for Survey Research. “Another concern is how the pandemic is affecting mental health, and residents are indeed feeling the effects. Nearly 80% of respondents report feeling some level of impact on their mental health and emotional well-being, with 17% reporting a serious impact.”
Results from this survey, along with graphic representations of findings, are available at beheardcva.org/page/beheardcva-coronavirus-ii-survey-april-may-2020.
Survey results were weighted to reflect the demographic characteristics of the region, resulting in a statistical margin of error of plus or minus 7 points.