By Nearly a 2-1 Margin, Parents Prefer to Wait to Open Schools to Minimize COVID Risk, with Parents of Color Especially Worried Either Way

Majorities Across Parties Want Congress to Prioritize Funding for COVID Testing, Tracing, and PPE

Most Say Things Will Get Worse Before They Get Better, and Just Over Half Now Say Their Mental Health is Worse Because of Coronavirus Worry and Stress

As state and local officials prepare for the new school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, parents with children who normally attend school overwhelmingly prefer that schools wait to restart in-person classes to reduce infection risk (60%) rather than open sooner so parents can work and students can return to the classroom (34%), the latest KFF tracking poll finds. Parents of color (76%) are even more likely than white parents (51%) to prefer that schools wait to return to in-person classes.

With President Trump calling for schools to reopen and threatening to withhold federal funds from schools that don’t do so, there is a big partisan divide – with 87% of Democrats and 59% of independents preferring schools open later while 60% of Republicans prefer that schools open sooner.

The cautious approach to reopening schools may reflect a lack of confidence that schools have the resources to do so safely. Large majorities of the public (71%) say the public schools in their area need more resources to comply with public health recommendations around reopening, and 66% of parents say the same thing about their own child’s school.

“It’s a no-win choice for parents, but most are erring on the side of protecting kids, teachers and families by delaying school reopening and keeping kids home,” KFF President and CEO Drew Altman said.

The poll also shows how parents are pulled in both directions at once on the issue of school reopening.

Most parents with a child who normally attends school are worried about teachers and staff getting sick from coronavirus (79%) and children being unable or unwilling to comply with physical distancing practices (73%). But, nearly as many are worried about their child (70%) or themselves or a family member (69%) getting sick from coronavirus and that their child’s school will be unable to comply with public health recommendations (66%).

However, if schools don’t reopen, about two thirds say they worry about their children falling behind socially and emotionally (67%) and academically (65%). About half say they worry about losing income because they can’t go to work (51%) and not being able to pay enough attention to their kids while working at home (47%). Smaller shares worry about not getting needed social services (40%), and not having access to technology needed for online learning (31%), and their child not having enough food to eat (24%).

Parents of Color More Likely Than White Parents to Worry about the Pandemic’s Effects

Reflecting the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on communities of color, the poll finds parents of color are more likely to be worried about each of these concerns than white parents.

For example, about 9 in 10 parents of color are worried that their child (91%) or they or someone else in their family (90%) will get sick with coronavirus if schools reopen. Far fewer white parents say they are worried about their child (55%) or someone in their family (53%) getting sick.

If schools stay closed, parents of color are far more likely than white parents to say they are worried about losing income (65% vs. 41%) and their child not getting needed social services (52% vs. 32%). Many parents of color also are worried about not having the technology for online learning (49%) and their child not having enough to eat at home (44%). Few white parents worry about either situation (17% and 9%, respectively).

Majorities across Parties Want Congress to Prioritize Funding for COVID Testing, Tracing, and PPE

As Congress works on its next coronavirus relief package, news reports suggest the Trump administration is resisting allocating additional federal funds for testing, contract tracing and other preventive service – a position at odds with public opinion.

The poll finds that 72% of the public say increasing federal funding to limit the spread of coronavirus, including testing, contract tracing and personal protective equipment (PPE), should be a top priority for Congress, making it the highest-ranked priority in the poll, and the only one seen as a top priority by a majority of Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

Other high-ranking priorities for Congress include increasing federal funding to state and local governments to help schools reopen (55% say it should be a top priority), increasing government assistance to help Americans who do not get health insurance from their jobs pay for coverage (52%), and providing financial assistance for people who lost their jobs to purchase COBRA insurance through their former employers (49%).

Somewhat fewer cite a second round of stimulus checks to individuals (43%) and extending the increased unemployment benefit of $600 per week (39%) as top priorities for Congress.

Democrats are more likely than Republicans to cite each of the nine actions as top priorities for Congress, while independents tend to fall in between.

Most Americans are Pessimistic about COVID Pandemic and Say Their Mental Health is Suffering 

With cases and deaths rising across much of the country, the public is increasingly pessimistic about the pandemic. Most (60%) now say “the worst is yet to come,” three times the share (20%) who say “the worst is behind us.” The share saying the worst is yet to come is up 10 percentage points since May.

For the first time, most Americans (53%) now say that stress and worry related to the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health – an increase of 14 percentage points since May. This includes about one in four who say it has had a “major” negative impact.

Those most likely to report negative mental health effects include women, young adults, Blacks and people with difficulties affording household expenses due to coronavirus.

About half (52%) of the public also report experiencing at least one of six specific issues due to worry and stress related to the pandemic: sleep difficulties (36%), poor appetite or overeating (32%), difficulty controlling their temper (18%), frequent headaches or stomachaches (18%), increased alcohol or drug use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure (12%).

Other findings include:

  • About half (48%) of the public rate the federal government response to the pandemic as “poor” while another 23% rate it “fair.” Smaller shares rate the federal response positively as “good” (20%) or excellent (7%). About half the public gives their state (46%) and local (48%) governments positive marks.
  • With the country facing a double-digit unemployment rate, 40% of adults say someone in their household has had problems paying bills or affording medical care or basic expenses in the past three months, including 22% who say this was a direct result of coronavirus and its impact on their financial situation.

Designed and analyzed by public opinion researchers at KFF, the poll was conducted July 14-19 among a nationally representative random digit dial telephone sample of 1,313 adults including an oversample of parents of school-aged (5-17 year-old) children. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish by landline (323) and cell phone (990). The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample. For results based on subgroups, the margin of sampling error may be higher.