David Lazer, NULab co-director and University Distinguished Professor of political science and computer and information sciences at Northeastern, is the lead author on a November 13 report by the COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States. The COVID-19 Consortium, a collaboration between researchers at Northeastern University, Rutgers University, Harvard University, and Northwestern University, has conducted eight fifty-state survey waves since April.
The latest report focuses on trends in “health-related behaviors” in Massachusetts, and found a spike in indoor gatherings that are likely responsible for the recent surge in daily COVID-19 cases. Lazer and colleagues asked residents about their activities within the last twenty-four hours before they were contacted for the survey. They found, comparing results from April to October, that gym visits jumped from below 1% to 7%, restaurant dining increased from below 5% to 15%, and indoor gatherings with people outside one’s household doubled from 22% to 45%. These trajectories are closely related to the rise in COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts, compared to the spring and summer months when health-conscious behaviors were more widely practiced and flattening the curve. Fortunately, the surveys of Lazer and colleagues found that about 80% of MA residents regularly wear masks. In an interview with Jim Braude from GBH, Lazer said that “Massachusetts actually was very early on relative to the rest of the country in terms of wearing masks, and we have among the highest reported levels of mask compliance in the country.”
Still, the report concludes that based on recent data, more aggressive actions will need to be taken by the Massachusetts government. With current trends, the state may face a major crisis of more than ten thousand new cases per day by December, undoubtedly accelerated by the holidays.
Lazer told WBUR that “We’ve sort of let down our vigilance over the last few months in terms of our behaviors to limit the spread of COVID-19. And unfortunately, COVID has come roaring back.”