While the summer started off on an optimistic note with COVID-19 cases declining, mask mandates lifting and people setting off for long-overdue vacations, August seemed to come in and knock us back six months in the progress we were making thanks to the introduction of the Delta variant. Now, 80% of adults are concerned about the latest variant, with concern growing among both vaccinated and unvaccinated adults in the past week, according to research by Morning Consult.
Couple the resurgence of COVID-19 cases with a devastating Category 4 Hurricane Ida hitting Louisiana – FEMA is calling Ida ‘one of the most catastrophic hurricanes’ to ever make landfall in the US – and those of us in the Gulf South are finding ourselves in what seems to be a renewed cone of uncertainty.
As the Delta variant brought COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations to records highs, consumer optimism fell drastically, according to Morning Consult’s US Economic Outlook September 2021. This drop in confidence showed in consumer spending habits as they took a dip for the second consecutive month in August.
“When uncertainty starts to creep back in, consumers are going to proceed with caution in their decision making, especially when it comes to spending. This could mean delaying large purchases or holding off on planning trips as they wait to see how long the fourth wave of the pandemic will last,” said Marc Ehrhardt, president of The Ehrhardt Group.
In the Gulf South, consumer confidence took a noticeable decline in August, with Mississippi and Alabama seeing their lowest levels since the onset of the pandemic. Louisiana sentiment fell to January 2021 levels and Florida fell to near February 2021 levels.
With the aftermath of Hurricane Ida still unfolding in Louisiana, the confidence level in this state may see a further decline in the coming weeks and months as residents already dealing with COVID-19 pandemic challenges start to take storm damage inventory and begin to rebuild.
Ramifications of the storm will be felt by not only consumers but also across several industries and business sectors as the damage has slowed or halted some operations. This will have a trickle-down effect on the economy since Louisiana is a vital industry hub for the US.
This feeling of uncertainty can cause consumers to change their behaviors as people will often make different purchasing, travel and financial decisions when anxious about the current state of the country as opposed to when they are feeling optimistic about the future.
VACCINES ARE THE KEY TO RECOVERY
While hurricane recovery is in a league of its own, vaccines are thought to be the key ingredient for consumer confidence recovery as a whole. As we have seen since vaccinations became widely available earlier this year, increased vaccination rates correlate with increases in consumer confidence. Once people started to get vaccinated, there was a sense of safety – safety in gathering together in public places, safety in dining out at restaurants, safety in shopping in brick and mortars, safety in modes of travel and visits to destinations, both drivable and beyond.
According to Morning Consult research, vaccine requirements may also be a driving force in persuading the undecided to take the shot.
Share of unvaccinated adults who said they would get vaccinated if it were required to do each of the following activities:
More than 25% of unvaccinated adults said they would likely get the vaccine if it were required to attend a sporting event or concert. More than 10% said they would “definitely” take the shot to attend an event. As the NFL football season officially opened this past weekend, the urge to get back in the stadium to catch a ball game in person just might be the game-changer on getting more folks vaccinated.
Despite efforts to increase vaccination rates, the number of unvaccinated individuals willing to take the shot remains level, according to a report by Resonate. Safety and side effects continue to be the top hesitations expressed by unvaccinated individuals. The report also found that doctors and medical professional organizations are the most trusted group for vaccination information at 90%, followed by government health workers such as Dr. Anthony Fauci at 35%, and friends and family at 28%. Coming in last as a trusted source on vaccines were elected officials at just under 4%.
While concern is abound, many Americans are keeping current travel plans despite rising concerns about the Delta variant and regardless of vaccination status.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
“There is great uncertainty in our communities today. As our towns and local economies reemerge from the valleys of 2020-21, we look forward to enjoying the same or better experiences from happier days,” said Ehrhardt. “Especially in seasons like the one we are in now, it is important to recognize that rarely do time and fresh air solve problems. Understanding the challenges and understanding how to engage with people at the right time and with the right message do.”
We may currently be in the cone of uncertainty, but we know that the storms will pass and when they do, we will stay and build.
Because this is what it means to live in the Gulf South.
STAY TUNED: NEW FALL UPDATE TO OUR 2021 GULF SOUTH INDEX REPORT COMING SOON!
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HOW DID WE FIND THIS STUFF OUT?
The Gulf South Index is a cooperative project between The Ehrhardt Group, a public relations, content, issues and crisis firm, and Causeway Solutions, a nationally recognized research and data analysis company, that are both based in the Gulf South.
The Index delves into hundreds of thousands of data points to paint a better picture of how the millions of people living in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle are going about their lives. We want to find out more about how we make decisions, from what we are buying and how we are getting our news to where we plan to travel.
We cannot comment on the methodology of the surveys and research we did not conduct, which is why we do our best to link to the source articles or studies that we share here.