Substantial numbers of parents who have children in school or day care
report that two-week closings in the fall would present serious
financial problems for them, according to the results of a new national poll that focuses on Americans’ views and concerns about the potential for a more severe outbreak of H1N1 swine flu in the fall or winter.
About half (51 percent) of these parents
report that if schools/day cares closed for two weeks, they or someone
else in their household would likely have to miss work in order to care
for the children. Forty-three percent of these parents report that they
or someone in their household would likely lose pay or income and have
money problems; 26 percent of these parents report that they or someone
in their household would likely lose their job or business as a result
of having to stay home in order to care for the children.
The survey was conducted by the Harvard Opinion Research Program at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) as part of a series of polls of gauging Americans’ response to the Influenza A (H1N1) outbreak. The polling was done June 22-28.
The survey found that school closings are likely to have an even greater impact on minority parents. More
African-American and Hispanic parents of children in school/day care
indicate that they are likely to lose pay or income and have money
problems (56 percent and 64 percent respectively), as compared to
whites (34 percent). And, more African-American and Hispanic parents of
children in school/day care report that they or someone in their
household would likely lose their job or business (40 percent and 49
percent respectively), as compared to whites (14 percent).
Likelihood of serious outbreak
Approximately Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed believe it is very or somewhat likely that there will be widespread cases of H1N1 with people getting very sick this coming fall or winter. Parents are more likely than people without children to believe this will occur, with roughly two thirds of parents (65 percent) saying it is very or somewhat likely compared to 56 percent of people without children.
“These results suggest Americans are likely to support public health officials in prioritizing preparations for the possibility of a serious H1N1 outbreak in the fall or winter,” said Robert J. Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at HSPH.
Public concern about risk of getting ill personally
Despite a majority believing that a serious outbreak is likely, more than half of Americans (61 percent) are not concerned about their personal risk — that is, that they or their family members will get sick from H1N1 in the next year. This level is unchanged since the previous poll conducted May 5-6. The current survey further suggests that the World Health Organization’s (WHO) decision to raise the worldwide pandemic alert level to Phase 6 did not dramatically impact Americans’ level of concern about their personal risk. Only 22 percent of Americans knew that the WHO had raised the level, and only 8 percent of Americans said it made them more concerned that they or their family would get H1N1 in the next 12 months.
If the outbreak in the fall or winter is serious and leads to large-scale workforce absenteeism, the survey suggests the possibility of substantial difficulties for many people and the economy as a whole. If people had to stay home for seven to 10 days because they were sick or because they had to care for a family member who was sick, 44 percent indicate that they would be likely to lose pay or income and have money problems, and 25 percent reported that they would be likely to lose their job or business.
“The findings highlight the important role that employers would play during a future outbreak. Flexibility in their employee policies may help minimize some of the problems identified in this survey,” said Blendon.
Recent experience with H1N1
At the time of this survey, 27 percent of Americans reported that there had been cases of H1N1 among people in their community, and 18 percent reported that schools in their community had closed due to H1N1. Since the beginning of the outbreak, roughly two-thirds of people report that they or someone in their household has washed their hands or used sanitizer more frequently (62 percent).
“Handwashing was a major focus of public health education during the recent outbreak. The results of this survey show that these efforts helped people protect themselves,” said Blendon.
This is the third in a series of polls about Americans’ response to the H1N1 flu outbreak:
The first survey was released May 1. The second survey was released May 8.