The survey of 510 Illinois residents showed that 42 percent of respondents self-reported being indoors in “proximity to others” who were not part of their household in October, compared to 20 percent in April, and 40 percent going to work, compared to 25 percent in April.
New daily COVID cases in Illinois surged to roughly 12,000 this month, based on a seven-day rolling average, up from about 2,000 in September, the study noted.
That sixfold increase compares with a nearly ninefold rise nationally, but at a much lower level, with a jump from about 350 new daily cases nationwide climbing to about 3,200, said James Druckman, a Northwestern political science professor, who was part of the research team.
In addition to the cold weather driving people indoors, Druckman suspects that the behavioral changes stem from “COVID fatigue." Said Druckman via email, "It has been a long haul and restricting behaviors on an individual level becomes more and more difficult."
The rise in such indoor activities could contribute to the surge because transmission of the virus through aerosols happens more readily indoors than outdoors, the study theorizes.
It doesn’t bode well for what may happen in the coming winter months, Druckman said in a statement regarding the survey results. “The numbers are not promising in terms of what to expect in the coming months,” he said. “It seems that necessary behaviors are slipping, and this could put extreme strain on our health care infrastructure.”
The one big bright spot with respect to following health edicts showed up on mask-wearing. People who self-reported wearing masks shot up to 78 percent in October, from 52 percent in April.
Other types of indoor activities that put respondents in closer contact with other people also increased, but at lower percentages.
More people reported going to a gym or a house of worship in October, about 7 percent, compared to nearly zero in April, and more people said they took mass transit, about 6 percent compared to 2 percent before, the report said.
While some indoor activities dropped off this month, as Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot instituted new restrictions amid the surge in cases, the trend mostly persisted through mid-November, the survey found.
In November, 49 percent of respondents said they were “avoiding contact with others,” in a drop from 66 percent in April. Hand washing and disinfecting surfaces is also down, the report said.
The researchers from Northwestern and its eastern U.S. university partners, including Harvard University, Northeastern University and Rutgers University, have surveyed 139,230 people nationwide in 10 different consecutive periods this year between April and November to study the behaviors in response to the pandemic.
They’ve released several studies, including this most recent one focused on Illinois. The 510 Illinois resident responses were weighted by race, age and gender to reflect the state’s demographics.