Many Americans won’t rely on virtual options after COVID, poll finds
Many Americans don’t expect to rely on the digital services that have become commonplace during the pandemic after COVID-19 subsided, a new poll shows, though many think it’s a good thing if these options remain available in the future.
Nearly half or more of American adults say they are not likely to attend virtual activities, receive virtual healthcare, get groceries delivered or use curbside pickup after the end of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Business Research. Less than 3 in 10 say they are very likely to use one of these options at least some of the time.
Yet nearly half also say it would be a good thing if virtual options for health care, for community events, and for activities like fitness classes or religious services continue after the pandemic.
“Rather either-or, I think we’re more likely to face a hybrid future,” said Donna Hoffman, director of the Center for the Connected Consumer at the George Washington School of Business. “People have found convenience in some of these virtual options that makes sense, and they don’t necessarily have anything to do with it, like your safety or the pandemic, even though they’ve come of age during the pandemic. “
Digital daily routines became the default in 2020 as the country responded to the fast-spreading virus, which caused lockdowns, closed schools and closed businesses. Some substitutions, such as online shopping and video conferencing, already existed. Others have been reinvented or popularized during the pandemic.
Either way, Hoffman said, there has been “rapid” deployment and adoption of virtual services. It was a question of “how are we going to make this work?” ” she says.
Cornelius Hairston said his family had been taking precautions throughout the pandemic because his wife is a first responder in health care.
“We tried to stay in as much as possible and only go out for the essentials,” said Hairston, 40, who recently moved to Roanoke, Va.
Hairston joked that her 4-year-old twin boys are ‘COVID babies’ who haven’t even gone to the grocery store for much of their young lives. The family used delivery services almost exclusively to avoid venturing into crowded stores. But in the future, he only expects to use them “from time to time”.
For Angie Lowe, the convenience of telemedicine and the time savings was reason enough to start over, even though she and her husband started doing things in public again more than a year ago.
Lowe had her first telemedicine appointment at the start of the pandemic when feeling “lonely” and “stuck at home” kept her from sleeping well. She was able to speak with the doctor without having to take time off work to drive and wait at a medical center.
“This was my first telemedicine appointment, but it won’t be my last,” said Lowe, 48, of Sterling, Illinois. “If I can do it, I will.”
For many, however, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages of relying on digital services in the future. Adults aged 50 or over are particularly likely to say they do not plan to use the virtual options asked for in the survey in the future, even though many have been introduced during the pandemic to protect the at-risk population.
Despite feeling nervous about COVID-19 and infection rates in Phoenix, Tony DiGiovane, 71, said he’s found curbside pickup at grocery stores and restaurants to be more complicated than it was worth.
“By the time I picked things up, I needed more stuff,” he said of his grocery orders, and “something is always missing or wrong” on orders to take away.
Karen Stewart, 63, recognizes the benefits of video calling, but she also finds them limiting. This is the case in his work organizing after-school programs for children. She also now sees some of her doctors online, one who provides virtual care almost exclusively and another who uses virtual care between office visits.
She likes that she doesn’t have to drive, but that means a doctor or nurse can’t take her vitals or attend to her. It was “scary”, for example, when all of her pre-surgery appointments were online, she said.
“When I do that, they can’t take my blood pressure, my pulse. There are things a doctor could find out that they can’t see online,” said Stewart of Perris, Calif.
The pandemic has created an opportunity to balance in-person and virtual services to support older adults’ physical and mental health, said Alycia Bayne, senior researcher at NORC. This “could be especially beneficial for older people with different health conditions, mobility limitations, people who lack transportation options, people who don’t have or don’t live near strong social networks like family and friends to lean on,” she said.
Yet there remain limits to access to technology, broadband access and digital literacy, which Bayne says could help explain why the poll finds older people are less likely to use digital services after the pandemic.
Despite the age gap on service use, similar percentages of adults of all ages say it’s a good thing for virtual healthcare options, for community events and meetings, and for activities continue after the pandemic.
“They recognize the benefits of virtual services, but they’re also ready to go back to their pre-pandemic routines,” she said. “The silver lining, of course, is that these services are now available.”
The poll of 1,001 adults was conducted May 12-16 using a sample drawn from NORC’s AmeriSpeak Probability Panel, which is designed to be representative of the US population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Rico reported from Atlanta.