As local government officials start to plan how to ease restrictions imposed to stop the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus, Tampa-St. Petersburg businesses should put safety concerns at the top their list.
That’s a key takeaway from a new consumer sentiment survey by the Tampa Bay Partnership.
Overall, area residents are feeling more optimistic about getting through the crisis, but are cautious about re-opening the economy and resuming normal activities, such as going out to eat, staying at a hotel or going to large events, said Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Partnership.
“If I were a business looking at this data, I would be rethinking my business model,” Homans said. “First and foremost, I would think safety is going to be top of mind and businesses need to visibly show how they are taking steps to show the safety of customers.”
That could involve marking lines on the floor every six feet for customers waiting in line, or putting up plexiglass for tellers or grocery clerks to separate themselves from the customer. It also could mean workers wearing gloves or masks, and employees walking around cleaning surfaces, to visibly communicate to customers that their safety is paramount, Homans said.
The survey is the second in a series planned by the Partnership to measure consumer sentiment about the crisis.
In the first survey, there was strong support for required self-quarantine for visitors for virus hotspots as a virus mitigation strategy.
The most recent survey found the most favored mitigation strategy now is social distancing. Ninety percent of those surveyed support enforcing social distancing measures in businesses, said Joseph St. Germain, president of Downs & St. Germain Research, which interviewed 384 area residents on April 14 and 15.
“At this point, it appears that social distancing is a given in the minds of Tampa Bay residents,” Homans said.
That provides a window into residents’ confidence about moving forward, he said.
“This social distancing policy is just two words but if that is the law of the land and drives the reopening process, it has massive implications for what business models look like, and for how restaurants and airlines and concerts and sporting events can function if social distancing is applied,” Homans said.
About 77 percent of those surveyed support requiring residents to wear face coverings in public, and 63 percent would back implementing a mandatory nighttime curfew. Fewer than half, or 49 percent, favor re-opening beaches and parks without social distancing, and only about one-third want to see schools reopen before the end of the school year or exempting places of worship from stay-at-home orders.
Those surveyed are more comfortable with going back to work, to a park or a beach, or going out to dinner than they are taking a cruise or flying on a plane. Half of those surveyed said they would feel safe returning to normal activities when public health officials say the pandemic is over, while only 31 percent said they would feel safe going back to normal when government officials say it’s over.
“To me this signals that it’s critical to have the most respected public health officials at the table as equal partners giving their blessing to the strategy to reopen the economy. People are looking for that kind of affirmation and endorsement to validate any signals that come from leaders to reopen the economy,” Homans said. “Without that, they might be more cautious and more suspect of the decisions.”
More than one-third of those surveyed, 35 percent, said they think the situation will get better in the next 30 days, while almost two-thirds, or 61 percent, are looking for improvements in the next 60 days,
However the Covid-19 situation is of greater concern among African American residents, who are more likely to be “very concerned” about Covid-19 (76 percent); more likely to be concerned about getting sick with Covid-19 (83 percent); and more likely to have been laid off (34 percent).
Asked about how local, state and national leaders are handling the Covid-19 situation, 50 percent of those surveyed gave excellent or very good ratings to Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman was rated excellent or very good by 34 percent of those surveyed, while 32 percent rated Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis excellent or very good.
President Donald Trump had excellent or very good ratings from 37 percent of the respondents, but another 41 percent said his handling of the situation was poor.