Week 6 Survey of Social Distancing in North Carolina - May 9-11, 2020

May 15, 2020

This survey was designed by the Duke University COVID19 Digital Lab, a joint project of Duke Forge and the Duke University Social Science Research Institute, and conducted by Clarity+Campaign Labs. Project team members include Erich S. Huang, MD, PhD (Director, Duke Forge and Duke Crucible; Assistant Dean for Biomedical Informatics, Duke University School of Medicine), Jessilyn Dunn, PhD (Department of Biomedical Engineering, Duke Pratt School of Engineering), Kyle Endres, PhD (Duke Social Science Research Institute), Nick Eubank, PhD (Duke Social Science Research Institute), Dana Pasquale, PhD (Duke Social Science Research Institute), and Donald H. Taylor, Jr., PhD (Director, Duke Social Science Research Institute; Professor, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University).


Logo for the joint Duke Social Science Research Institute/Duke Forge COVID19 Digital Lab

The Duke Forge/Duke University Social Science Research Institute (SSRI) COVID19 Digital Lab commissioned a survey that was conducted by Clarity+ Campaign Labs (CCL) from May 9-11, 2020 to ask North Carolinians (N=1,684; margin of error: +/- 2.36% at 95% confidence interval) about their social distancing behavior related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Previous versions of this survey were conducted on March 29-31, 2020 (N=1,274);  April 4-6, 2020 (N=1,426); April 11-13, 2020 (N=1,347), and April 18-20 (N=1,345). The survey is repeated weekly; however, there was a hiatus between weeks 4 and 6. Survey results are updated in order to track any changes in self-reported behavior that may influence the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) coronavirus. All of the responses to the Week 6 survey asked about behavior after the statewide "Stay at Home" order issued by Governor Cooper took effect at 5:00 pm EDT on March 30, 2020.

Full details of the survey methodology, the questionnaire instrument and the raw data may be accessed and freely used (please see also links at bottom under "Additional Resources").

Summary of Results

For the first time since we began our survey, we are starting to see significant changes in social distancing behavior. Between our Week 4 survey (April 18-20) and the current Week 6 survey (May 9-11), the number of people reporting that they have not had any face-to-face interactions with people outside their household has fallen by a third (from 33% to 23%), and the share of people who report at least one face-to-face interaction with someone outside their house in which they were unable to stay 6 feet from the other person rose by about 6% (from 22% to 28%, after controlling for survey modality). 

We also see a continued increase in the number of people who reported being in a large group (20 or more people) in the last week. Between Week 3 and Week 4 that number rose from 19% to 25%, and it has held at 26% in Week 6, suggesting a small but persistent increase in larger gatherings.

A pattern of decreasing hand washing is also evident in these results. The share of people washing their hands >7 times fell from an average of about 76% in Weeks 1-4 to 70% in week 6, and the number of people only washing their hands 1-3 times a day rose from 4% in Week 1 and Week 2 to 7-8% in Weeks 3-6.

At the same time, however, the share of respondents reporting that they are currently practicing social distancing remains stable at about 95%, and the number of people reporting large changes in their routines remains at about 60%. This shows that the core finding of this survey still holds: the term "social distancing" means very different things to different people. However, these results also suggest most North Carolinians believe that they are continuing to exercise caution even as they change their behavior.

Finally, we see increased polarization around how respondents view the risks of the coronavirus. While in weeks 1-4, between 52% and 57% of respondents felt most North Carolinians were responding appropriately, that has fallen to 43% in Week 6. This is a result of increases in both the share or respondents who think most North Carolinians are underestimating the risk (increasing from 33% in Week 4 to 42% in Week 6), and the share of respondents who think most North Carolinians are overreacting (rising from 8-9% in Weeks 1-3 to 12% in Week 4, and finally 15% in Week 6).

Survey Response Details

Question: About how many people that do not live in your household have you had physical, face-to-face interactions with in the past 24 hours?
Number Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 6
None 36% 39% 39% 33% 23%
1 to 3 33% 38% 39% 38% 40%
4 to 6 11% 10% 10% 12% 18%
7 or more 19% 14% 11% 17% 19%





Question: For how many of those interactions were you able to stay at least 6 feet from the other person at all times? (Six feet is just far enough that if you and the other person both reached out your arms, you couldn’t touch one another.)
Number Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 6
None 21% 19% 19% 22% 21%
1 to 3 45% 54% 53% 48% 50%
4 to 6 16% 13% 16% 13% 14%
7 or more 19% 13% 13% 17% 15%





Question: In the last week, how many times did you spend time in a group of more than 20 people? 
Number Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 6
Never 78% 82% 81% 75% 74%
1 to 3 15% 13% 14% 16% 19%
4 to 6 2% 2% 2% 3% 2%
7 or more 5% 2% 3% 6% 5%





Question: Approximately how many times, if at all, did you wash your hands in the past 24 hours? (Your best guess is fine.)
Number Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 6
None 0% 1% 1% 0% 1%
1 to 3 4% 4% 7% 8% 8%
4 to 6 18% 18% 19% 17% 21%
7 or more 77% 77% 73% 75% 70%





Several questions provide the respondents views about their personal risk of contracting the coronavirus, and their view of how most North Carolinians are responding to the current pandemic.

Question: Do you think it’s likely that you’ll get the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19?


Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 6
Likely 13% 13% 8% 11% 12%
Not likely 57% 59% 64% 65% 60%
Unsure 30% 28% 28% 25% 28%

Question: How would you describe the way most North Carolinians are dealing with the coronavirus outbreak? Would you say that most North Carolinians are underestimating the risk, reacting appropriately, or overreacting?
Reaction Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 6
Underestimating risk 38% 37% 34% 33% 42%
Reacting appropriately 52% 55% 57% 55% 43%
Overreacting 9% 8% 9% 12% 15%

Additional Resources

*Please note: Although this codebook is labeled "Wk 5," it reflects data from the survey conducted in the sixth week of this project. There was no survey conducted in Week 5 of this project.

Contact Information

For questions about this survey and associated data, please contact Donald H. Taylor, Jr., PhD at don.taylor@duke.edu