As economy reopens, Salt Lake County residents remain wary of coronavirus

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Shoppers at Fashion Place in Murray on Friday, May 22, 2020.

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Most of Utah moved into its “yellow” low-risk phase two weeks ago, allowing businesses to reopen with certain restrictions. But consumers aren’t engaging in the shopping and leisure activities they enjoyed before the pandemic.

A recent survey commissioned by Salt Lake County found the majority of its residents continue to avoid salons, barbershops, gyms, entertainment venues and dine-in restaurants. Seventy percent said they feared the state government and Salt Lake County Health Department will lift restrictions on public activity too quickly.

Still, there are things companies can do to alleviate customer concerns. Most respondents said they’d feel at least somewhat more comfortable if businesses regularly cleaned surfaces, provided sanitizer in prominent locations, encouraged social distancing among customers and checked employees daily for COVID-19 symptoms.

More than four out of five survey respondents said they were more likely to visit businesses that followed local health and safety guidelines.

"Perhaps the most striking information from the survey is consumers remain mindful of public health issues and are watching what measures businesses are taking to address the concerns,” said Dina Blaes, director of the Salt Lake County Office of Regional Development, in a news release Friday.

Most respondents also want businesses to provide special hours for high-risk populations, require workers to wear face masks and limit the amount of customers allowed inside. Nearly three out of four want shops to require all their customers to wear face masks and 62% would feel more comfortable with cashless transactions.

The firm Y2 analytics conducted the survey from May 8-16 by randomly dialing 400 cellphones and 400 landlines belonging to Salt Lake County residents.

Of the respondents, 45% identified as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents, while 41% identified as Democrats or Democrat-leaning independents.

Results show 73% of respondents feel the pandemic has impacted their lives in a major way. Ninety percent have followed coronavirus news very or fairly closely. While only 29% feel the pandemic has had a negative impact on their physical health, 53% say it has taken a negative toll on mental health and 82% say it has impacted their social life in a negative way.

When asked about their pandemic concerns, 53% said they worried more about harm to the economy than the impacts of the coronavirus on public health. Even among those more concerned about the economy, less than half felt comfortable going to movie theaters, gyms, sporting events, concerts and live performances.

A majority feel the coronavirus will spread widely in the United States (85%) and cause severe damage in the Salt Lake County community (68%). But only 51% of respondents believe their health will be severely impacted if they contract the virus and 72% feel they are less likely to become infected than other people.

The survey findings also reveal that more affluent people feel slightly more comfortable shopping at retail stores, eating out and visiting entertainment or sporting events than those making less than $50,000 a year.

The County Office of Regional Development plans to use the survey results to help guide businesses as they reopen and to aid the county’s economic recovery efforts.