Has The Worst Of COVID-19 Passed In Cook County? Depends On Who You Ask.

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In a new Loyola University poll, more elderly and white residents of Cook County said the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, while more Black, Latino and younger residents said the worst is now -- or yet to come. Eric Gay / Associated Press
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In a new Loyola University poll, more elderly and white residents of Cook County said the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, while more Black, Latino and younger residents said the worst is now -- or yet to come. Eric Gay / Associated Press

Has The Worst Of COVID-19 Passed In Cook County? Depends On Who You Ask.

More than half of Cook County residents think the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us — but most also want to keep current restrictions on life and business in place.

The findings come from the Cook County Community Survey, a poll conducted during the month of March by researchers and students at Loyola University in Chicago.

In all, 1,194 Cook County residents responded between February 26 and March 30.

More elderly and white residents surveyed felt the worst is behind us, while more younger people, and Black and Latino residents tended to say the worst is happening right now — or is yet to come.

“When you’re asking people about their expectations for the future, there’s gonna be a lot baked into that that might be rooted in things like personality, or their personal economic situation,” said David Doherty, associate professor of Political Science at Loyola University.

Data show individual economic situations did factor in to attitudes about the pandemic.

People who reported some level of economic hardship in the last year were more likely to say the worst is yet to come. Economic hardship was defined as falling behind on rent, mortgage or other bills; having problems paying for food; or having difficulty affording health care and prescriptions.

“I wasn’t that surprised that there was a super tiny slice of the public that’s like, ‘You’re kidding yourself if you think we’re through this,’” Doherty added. “I think there really are some people who are just like, ‘Oh, things can always get worse.’”

But the researchers said they were most surprised by how many people said they wanted current restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus to stay in place.

“It didn’t really match up with what I feel like might be kind of the social media echo chamber where you’re seeing people saying, ‘Open things back up,’” said Dana Garbarski, associate professor of Sociology at Loyola University.

Almost 50% of all respondents said there should be tighter restrictions on public transit, with 48% calling for tighter restrictions in schools.

About 47% of respondents wanted stricter measures in place at restaurants and 41% said the same of retail stores. Just about a third of respondents wanted more restrictions outdoors.

Across all categories, between 30% and 40% of people said they felt restrictions should stay the same.

About 27% of people felt restrictions could be loosened outdoors, 21% wanted fewer restrictions on restaurants and fewer than 20% of respondents suggested loosening restrictions in stores, schools, and public transportation.

But there were variations among racial groups when it came to COVID-19 restrictions and closures.

For example, respondents identified as Black and Hispanic were most likely to say they wanted tighter restrictions at schools and public transit. And Hispanics were most likely to push for tighter measures at restaurants.

The data also provide clues for policy makers as the vaccine rollout progresses. While limited supply is still an issue, there are signs of slowing demand in some parts of Illinois. Soon medical professionals and public health officials will need to target people who are resistant to getting inoculated.

The Cook County Community Survey conducted by researchers and students at Loyola found that vaccine hesitancy in Cook County mirrors national trends.

Black respondents, those identifying as political Independents, and those 30 or younger were most likely to say they would “probably not” or “definitely not” get a vaccine once it became available to them.

Unfortunately, the reasons for their answers were not clear.

“If I had it to do again, I would definitely ask follow up questions like, ‘Okay, why won’t you get the vaccine?” Doherty said.

Garbarski said many national surveys have pinpointed Republicans as being more hesitant to get vaccinated. But in Cook County, while Republicans were more hesitant than Democrats, Independents had the most vaccine hesitancy, with 38% saying they probably or definitely would not get inoculated.

“There might be this whole other group of people that we’re missing that are going to be unwilling to be vaccinated for a variety of reasons that need that sort of localized framing and targeting with respect to the messaging about the vaccine,” she noted.

Becky Vevea covers city politics and COVID-19 vaccines for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.