As Utahns get vaccinated and all statewide pandemic health orders will soon lift, most say they’re excited about returning to zoos, botanical gardens and outdoor shows. But Salt Lake County residents remain hesitant about filling seats at sports stadiums or hitting the gym.
Many cultural and entertainment venues took a hit last year as the coronavirus began spreading and forcing closures. And even though those pre-pandemic crowd magnets have since reopened, in some cases with limited seating, they continue to struggle getting patrons to buy tickets in Salt Lake County.
“We’re not seeing them sell out, our theaters, even with the capacity we currently have in place,” said Holly Yocom, director of community services, at a County Council meeting Tuesday.
Recent surveys conducted by Y2 Analytics, however, found public sentiment may be shifting.
“Hopefully when we see the fall, we will be hitting it pretty hard with higher capacity,” Yocom said.
About 9 in 10 Utahns already feel comfortable shopping at local businesses, and more than 2 out of 3 feel fine eating at restaurants, regardless of current public health restrictions, according to the survey.
Overall, Salt Lake County respondents were slightly less comfortable returning to the social activities they enjoyed before the pandemic, compared to respondents statewide. But slightly more than half of county respondents said they’re either very or somewhat comfortable with visiting an entertainment and cultural venue or going to a movie. Less than half said they felt OK with going to a live sporting event or to the gym, but that could soon change.
Among those in Salt Lake County still hesitant about attending live or crowded venues, 18% said they’d be ready by the summer, and 57% said they’ll be ready within the next six months. And 1 in 3 respondents said they’ll spend more on arts and entertainment activities than they did before the pandemic.
“Certainly there’s been something missing in [people’s] lives and they’re eager to get back to that cultural sector,” said Kyrene Gibb, vice president of research at Y2 Analytics.
The survey polled around a thousand registered voters in Utah last month, including 649 residents of Salt Lake County. Three arts agencies commissioned the report: The Utah Cultural Alliance, Utah Department of Heritage & Arts, and Salt Lake County Arts & Culture.
Although 69% of respondents statewide said the pandemic had no impact or a positive impact on their finances, 60% of Utahns and 65% of Salt Lake County residents surveyed said it had a negative impact on their mental health. Four out of 5 also said it had a negative impact on their social life.
As residents venture out to the Salt Lake County social and cultural places they enjoyed before the pandemic, the survey found that venues can take certain measures to help them feel more comfortable.
The most important measure, county respondents said, was requiring all participants to wear face masks, followed by regularly sanitizing high-touch surfaces. But there appeared to be some cognitive dissonance among the respondents, as prohibiting the sale of concessions was the least important factor — and consuming concessions means participants would need to remove their masks. Respondents also ranked cashless transactions as one of the least important public safety measures, even though money is a high-touch object.
Review all the Salt Lake County survey results in the presentation below.
Tribune reporter Sean P. Means contributed to this article.