People appeared to heed the advice of public health authorities in December by avoiding holiday parties, wearing masks, and keeping spaced apart from others, behavior that may have mitigated the current pandemic surge, according to a new study by researchers from Northeastern, Harvard, Northwestern, and Rutgers.
“It was plausible that we would see a big spike in proximity driven by the holidays, and it simply wasn’t the case,” says David Lazer, university distinguished professor of political science and computer and information sciences at Northeastern, and one of the researchers who conducted the study “It did surprise me somewhat.”
Thirty percent of respondents surveyed between mid-December and mid-January reported attending Christmas or New Year’s Eve parties, the national online study of 26,000 U.S. residents found. Researchers didn’t have a comparable pre-COVID baseline figure, but “we suspect that it would be substantially higher,” they said in the report.
Greater mask-wearing, more distancing, and other improved personal behaviors reported in the study “will make things better than they would have been,” Lazer says.
But, he adds, “it’s not enough, especially once the new variant kicks in.”