While it has upended life in Massachusetts in a few short weeks, the novel coronavirus has also united residents both in fear of physical harm and financial loss, and in their resolve to follow the difficult isolation measures urged by public health officials, a new poll by Suffolk University and The Boston Globe found.
The survey reveals an extraordinary sense of shared purpose in the face of an unprecedented crisis, with Massachusetts residents nearly unanimous in their support for the severe restrictions that Governor Charlie Baker has imposed on life in the state to help slow the highly contagious virus.
More than 90 percent of respondents said they back decisions to close bars, dine-in restaurants, and non-essential businesses. Ninety-six percent said they support closing local schools, and 94 percent said they have been strict about observing social distancing.
The near-universal support for these measures paired with majorities who say they are worried about their personal financial situation suggests that most people in Massachusetts are willing to make some personal sacrifice for the greater good.
And more than half of respondents said they believe they could emotionally endure at least a few more months of the current situation.
“The thing that surprised me was how long people are willing to stick this out,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which conducted the poll. “Are they fearful and worried and concerned? Absolutely. But they’re willing to hunker down and do what it takes to survive this thing."
“There’s no way we’re necessarily going to be able to magically kill it,” one poll respondent, Rebecca Cugini, 36, of Uxbridge, said of the virus. “I’ve prepared for it to last for months. We’re adapting.”
The united front presented by Massachusetts residents stands in contrast to the inconsistent rhetoric coming out of Washington, where President Trump has veered to suggesting he might place New York under a mandatory quarantine, wanting other parts of the country go back to work, and even having the national economy restart by Easter.
There was a vast disconnect between how respondents judged the performances of the federal government, and state and local governments.
Eight in 10 approved of how Baker is handling the crisis, and strong majorities felt they were getting the information they need from state and their municipal governments.
Although the survey was statewide, 65 percent approved of how Mayor Martin J. Walsh is handling the outbreak in Boston, while eight percent disapproved, and 25 percent were undecided.
Meanwhile, just 28 percent approved of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, and just over half of those polled felt they were getting the information they needed from the federal government.
In the midst of crisis, most respondents see their neighbors in Massachusetts as magnanimous. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they think people here are mostly generous and kind to others, compared to 23 percent who saw fellow Bay Staters as mostly selfish and looking out for their own interests.
Fear was a through-line in the poll, which surveyed 500 Massachusetts residents by landline and cellphone from March 24-27 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Among respondents, the illness itself posed the bigger threat, as 61 percent said they are more worried about their physical health than their financial well-being, while 32 percent said the opposite.
Three out of four of people surveyed ranked their level of fear as “above average” or higher compared to other major crises they’ve lived through. More than 17 percent said the pandemic had triggered “the highest level of fear” they’d experienced, and 20 percent reported an “extremely high level of fear.”
More than 75 percent said they are at least somewhat worried they or someone else in their family will get infected with the virus.
Mike Kyle, a 32-year-old contractor from Pepperell, lived that fear in recent weeks, when he started battling a fever and his asthma became inflamed. On Monday, he was able to get tested for coronavirus 45 minutes away in Haverhill, where a physician took “a thin little, mean-looking swab” and put it in his nose. “They put it past your nasal cavity up in your sinus,” he said.
He then spent the next three days holed up in a room away from his family. “Not being able to go upstairs and kiss my wife, hold my daughter, change diapers — that was the hardest part,” he said.
He struggled to occupy himself while he waited for the results. “I restrung one guitar, I tuned [two] of them. I gave myself a haircut. I started doing a model. I tried everything.”
Come Thursday, he got his “God sent” results: negative. He plans to return to work Monday.
And while people are most concerned about the health of their families, for many, the pandemic also has sparked financial anxiety. The poll found that 63 percent of people are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about their personal financial situation or employment, and 36 percent said the health crisis already has diminished their regular income.
Lisa Kennedy of Chelmsford is among them. To make ends meet, the 54-year-old said she normally combines her disability payments with odd jobs — cleaning houses, organizing closets, babysitting. But those have quickly dried up, and she’s asked her utility companies for flexibility in making payments. They’re giving an extra two months, she said.
“I can’t panic. I will do what I can,” she said. Kennedy said she’s 14 years into recovery from addiction, an experience that has helped her navigate the country’s new reality.
“I’ve lived a life of isolation when I was in active addiction. It feels like that: isolated, almost waiting for something to come get you,” she said. “Because I lived so many years like that, I’m good with my spiritual side, I know I’ll be OK. If I react calmly, wash my hands, stay safe, stay home, stay away from other people, then I’ve done everything in my power. That’s how I get through each day.”
Poll respondents described the psychic toll the pandemic is taking on them, even as they support the measures that have transformed their daily lives.
David Strasburger of Somerville believes tough measures are crucial, but he misses going to temple each week, which he called “a really important mental reset” for him. And while the 54-year-old high school physics teacher wishes he could have friends and family over for dinner, he also misses “being close to strangers and acquaintances. I really miss being able to stop on the way home and sit at a bar, elbow-to-elbow, with people I don’t know.”
Strasburger said he is a relatively patient person, and so believes he can put up with a long shutdown, if necessary. “But it makes me really sad.”
“I’m just a little lonelier, more than anything else," added Sue Lindmark, 70, of Littleton.
Lindmark spends most winters with friends in Hilton Head and the summer with family at a New Hampshire campground. But she flew back early from South Carolina, and now wonders if her spring and summer will be upended, too.
She said she hasn’t seen any of her 11 grandchildren beyond video chats. She misses outings to the local senior center.
“I like my house, I like my home,” she added. “But I’m 70 years old. How many more years can I have? I’m going to enjoy it. But I feel like I’m afraid of stepping out of Massachusetts out of fear of not being able to get in.”
While some respondents said they most miss going to the gym or eating out, 49 percent said they miss seeing family members or friends in person the most, the poll found.
David Mobley, 75, has lived alone in Medfield since his wife died six years ago. He is struggling with the isolation, though frequent calls from his two adult sons help, as do his regular Al-Anon meetings, which have moved to Zoom. He is thankful for the kind neighbors whose young children he can see zipping around on their bikes when he goes for walks.
The hardest thing, he said, has been the shutting of the senior centers, which played a central role in his day-to-day life. “I was doing Zumba three times a week, and i was just loving it,” said Mobley. “I was the only guy. I loved the attention,” he joked.
Mobley worries about his pension, and the financial well-being of his sons, both of whom got married last year. In the back of his mind, lurks another fear: “That I would go before I got a chance to see grandchildren,” a life event he yearns for, and which triggers good memories of his wife, who knit baby quilts for each son before she died of a long-running illness.
“Lord," Mobley said, “let me live to have this experience.”