Tampa Bay’s on the right COVID-19 path, survey says, but vaccine doubts remain

Jay Cridlin, Tampa Bay Times
·3 min read

More people want a COVID-19 vaccine. More have started feeling comfortable going out to eat, shop and play. And the highest number to date believe the coronavirus pandemic is “near the end.”

So say the results of the latest COVID-19 survey by the Tampa Bay Partnership, which has spent more than a year tracking how thousands of local residents feel about the pandemic.

In the seventh iteration of the survey, conducted March 31-April 1 and released Thursday, the coalition of local business leaders found that a majority of Tampa Bay residents were generally feeling better about the state of things than they have at any point in the past year.

Many believe there’s still a long way to go — four in five believe the pandemic is not yet halfway through — and remain somewhat or very concerned about the virus. Still, more than half say they expect significant improvements on vaccinations, openings and relaxed social restrictions within 60 days, a level of hope not recorded since last April.

Seventy-six percent of residents say they’re likely to get a vaccine, up from 67 percent in January. People also said they were more likely today than in January to visit friends and family, go out to eat, attend outdoor sports or concerts or send their children to school.

“It matches up to a national conversation that positions us on the 20-yard line, or even the 10-yard line,” said partnership president and CEO Rick Homans. “But we all know that these last 10 yards are the toughest to get to a touchdown. You see that represented here. There’s clearly not a feeling of, ‘Open the doors and let it rip.’ There’s a sense of, ‘We are still concerned about this.’”

Not everyone responded with optimism.

Forty-three percent of Black Tampa Bay residents said they were not likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine, the survey said. Thirty-six percent of residents ages 18 to 34 said the same. Among all respondents who said they were unlikely to get vaccine, concern about side effects and a desire for more information were the primary reasons why.

The fact that the Black community had such suspicion was troubling to Homans, especially on the heels of the federal government recommending a pause in the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which had proven easier to distribute to communities with reduced access to health care.

“All of this feeds more suspicion that there’s something not right with this,” he said. “That is such a difference in opinion in view towards the vaccine between the Black community and the rest of the community that it needs to be addressed head-on with leadership in the Black community. We need to find out what are people thinking, and it needs to be addressed very directly and very quickly.”

Among workers who’d lost their jobs, 54 percent said they’d been unsuccessful in trying to find new employment, compared to 40 percent who’d either found a new job or returned to their old one.

And in perhaps the starkest finding, 45 percent of Tampa Bay residents said they personally knew someone who’d been hospitalized or died from COVID-19.

“This has been a global pandemic, and it’s affected every corner of every community,” Homans said. “We’re talking about 560,000 people in the nation who have died. That is a profound number, and it shows the way this pandemic has entered all of our lives in a highly personal way, and in some cases a very tragic way.”