COVID-19 & Preemptive Loneliness

June, 2020

As the country continues to see mass protests, the number of people taking a stance against racial injustice continues to grow.  These protests initially shifted attention away from COVID-19, even with the CDC reporting over 32M new cases of COVID-19 as of June 19th—a 13% increase from the week prior. But Horizon Media has tracked people’s feelings of isolation since March, and it’s clear that attention may be shifting back to COVID concerns.  In fact, this recent spike may be reengaging people’s fear of being re-isolated.  In other words, people may be suffering from pre-emptive loneliness.

Feelings of isolation were at an all-time high in early April. While they had begun to decline, there is a recent leveling off of scores — for the week ending June 14th they declined by a mere 1%. In fact, areas that are seeing a resurgence in COVID cases are also showing the strongest increase in feelings of isolation: Houston, Miami and Phoenix saw a 22% increase in people saying they “feel very isolated” during that same week. 

There looks to be a lot of push-pull going on in terms of how people are dealing with the relief of re-opening while at the same time seeing a spike in COVID cases in markets with looser and/or loosening restrictions.  It’s as if the spike is triggering the stress and fear that is lingering just under the surface for many people.  While people want to return to feeling ‘normal’, reports of a potential second wave seem to be creating pre-emptive loneliness.  While people may not physically be back in quarantine, emotionally they’re already halfway there, which means they may be much slower to do things like eat at a restaurant’s outside dining, for example. Should this trend in feelings of isolation continue, there may once again be a return to depressed spending in the near future.

Even if the world doesn’t see a second wave of the pandemic, it may be quite some time before people can gather together in the ways they are used to doing. As social animals, connection to others is a key component to people’s existence, and prolonged isolation will impact everything from our health, to our mindsets, to the products purchased, to what people do in their free time. This need for human interaction provides an opportunity for businesses to consider the role they can play to help alleviate people’s feelings of isolation.

Source: Horizon Media, Finger on the Pulse. Survey fielded 3/26/20 – 6/21/20, n=93,000

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