Yet public attitudes are now as mixed and contradictory as the epidemiology data. A forthcoming survey of 3,500 Americans conducted this month by our American Enterprise Institute colleague Daniel Cox found that 58% of Americans want public officials to “take all necessary steps to ensure the public is safe even if it means keeping businesses closed longer and hurting the economy.” But that is down from 78% in late March. Some 41% supported allowing businesses to open “even if it means putting some people at risk,” nearly double the 22% in March.
That explains what’s happening around the country, and also why so many people are uneasy. And it suggests that, along with ramping up testing and tracing, public officials need to focus on building public confidence and minimizing weariness.
That means, for example, encouraging (and practicing) sensible behavior that can reduce the spread. Wearing face masks is the simplest and most effective, along with efforts to practice hygiene and distancing when possible. Officials from the president down must avoid politicizing these measures. They are neither conspiracies against your dignity nor proof of your enlightenment. They are sensible ways of reducing infection and fear.
When local hot spots arise, mayors and governors must trace the outbreaks to their origin and be ready to curtail specific activities that are sources of spread.