The number of U.S. adults practicing strict social distancing is on the rise while most are wearing masks inside stores and businesses, according to two reports published by Gallup in mid-December.

Gallup’s Nov. 16-29 survey results, published Dec. 11, revealed that 50% of respondents were practicing strict social distancing. This means that in the past 24 hours they had no or very little contact with anyone outside their household.

This is up from 38% from the Oct. 29 to Nov. 1 survey, and it is the highest percentage since late May. Yet, with COVID-19 cases surging across the U.S., this is still well below the high of 75% of U.S. adults practicing strict social distancing in late March to early April.

More women (57%) than men (42%) are doing so, with little disparity by age group: 18-44 years old (52%), 45-64 years old (46%), 65+ years old (52%). Democrats (66%) were far more likely than both independents (45%) and Republicans (32%) to be practicing strict social distancing.

Large crowds were avoided by 75% of respondents during the seven days prior to completing the survey, compared to 59% avoiding public places and 50% avoiding small groups.

On Dec. 14, Gallup released findings from a second survey on mask-wearing practices, which was conducted from Nov. 1-6.

While 89% of U.S. adults said they always (78%) or usually (11%) wear a mask in a store or business, only 56% said they always (41%) or usually (15%) do so when indoors with friends or family outside their household.

“The familiarity of small, private gatherings with family and friends may imbue many people with an undue sense that they can protect themselves without adhering to the same precautions they would observe in public,” Gallup said.

“On Dec. 4, after the current survey was completed, the CDC issued new guidelines that further emphasized the importance of masks – including in homes under certain circumstances, such as when non-household members are in the home. It’s possible that mask use at home has risen somewhat since the survey as a result of that guidance.”

While the CDC heightened its emphasis in early December, public health officials have long emphasized that small, indoor gatherings with people outside your household are locations where COVID-19 can be easily transmitted.

On a call with state governors on Oct. 13, CDC Director Robert Redfield stated, “In the public square, we’re seeing a higher degree of vigilance and mitigation steps in many jurisdictions … But what we’re seeing as the increasing threat right now is actually acquisition of infection through small household gatherings.”

He added, “We think it’s really important to stress the vigilance of these continued mitigation steps in the household setting.”

On Oct. 24, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called household gatherings a “major vector” in the spread of the novel coronavirus, and in an Oct. 28 interview, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, emphasized the dangers of indoor gatherings with people outside your household.

On Dec. 16, the CDC reported that in the past seven days, there were nearly 1.5 million new cases and nearly 18,000 deaths related to COVID-19 nationwide. Since Jan. 21, there have been more than 16.5 million reported cases and nearly 303,000 deaths.

The full Gallup social distancing report is available here. The full mask-wearing report is available here.

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