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Survey: pandemic hits local wallets, mental health

COVID-19 virus

More than half of non-retired local residents saw a drop in household income last year, while more than a third of all adults experienced pandemic-related emotional issues, according to a survey of Larimer County residents conducted by the Health District of Northern Larimer County in late summer of 2020.

Just over half, or 54 percent, of non-retired adults who were surveyed reported a decrease in their household income compared to 2019. The percentage of respondents who were unemployed or laid off more than quadrupled, from 2 percent to 9 percent.

Those who had health insurance through an employer or who purchased insurance on their own declined from 71 percent in 2019 to 68 percent in 2020. Nearly one in 10 adults had experienced some sort of change in their health insurance as a result of the pandemic, and one-third of those had lost their insurance.

Respondents reported a significant increase in the number of “poor mental health days” experienced in the preceding month compared to the prior year (3.1 days to 4.4 days), and there was an increase in the number of days in which poor mental health had prevented them from doing usual activities (from 1.1 to 1.7 days). Additionally, 36 percent said they had experienced pandemic-related anxiety, depression, or stress at least half of the time in the preceding month.

For some, the pandemic led to increase reliance on substance use. Thirty percent of those who drank alcohol reporting drinking more than they did before the pandemic. They were more likely to be between the ages of 35 and 44 years, and on average, they drank one additional drink per week.

Not all the news was bad. A large percentage of respondents were practicing COVID-prevention strategies, with 90 percent often or always washing hands after returning home from a public place, and 88 percent always or often wearing masks when around people not in their household. Eighty-nine percent of respondents practiced 6-foot distancing when not in their home, and 86 percent reduced time in non-essential public places such as bars, restaurants, and libraries. Still, only 69 percent of adults had avoided having visitors in their home and 55 percent reported having avoided visiting in the previous 30 days with family members who did not live with them.

With a COVID-19 vaccine now here, 66 percent said they were willing to receive a safe and effective vaccine when available.

The findings were part of a special follow-up survey to the Health District’s routine triennial Community Health Survey that was conducted in the fall of 2019. Seeking to understand impacts of the pandemic, the Health District last July and August contacted approximately 2,500 households that had participated in the fall 2019 survey. Responses were received from 1,239 people who were identified as having responded to the earlier survey, allowing for a direct comparison.

Overall, 93 percent of the respondents were at least slightly concerned about COVID-19, while 39 percent were extremely or very much worried. Nearly all said their lives had changed at least slightly due to the pandemic.

“So many of us have experienced changes and challenges in our personal lives, it’s important that, as a community, we have a precise understanding of how this pandemic is impacting all of us, particularly those who may need extra help,” says Suman Mathur, a data evaluation specialist with the Health District.  “This survey helps us identify areas where organizations like ours can step in and provide some much-needed extra support right now.”

Read top 10 findings and executive summary