Many Americans want face masks to be permanent,
finds new study by the Center for the Digital Future

October 13, 2021 — Almost half of Americans say wearing face masks in stores and other public places should continue as a mandatory requirement in a post-pandemic world, according to a study released today by the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg.

The Center’s third-quarter findings, based on a survey completed last week, found 46 percent of respondents said wearing face masks in stores and other indoor locations outside the home should continue permanently, even after COVID-19 ends.

“We are still concerned about being near other people as we resume our normal lives while COVID recedes,” said Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future. “Perhaps without even realizing, we will maintain social distance, and a large percentage will want to wear masks.”

The findings about wearing face masks when COVID-19 is over are part of the COVID Reset Project, the Center’s studies on how the nation is changing as it battles and emerges from the pandemic.

On other issues, the Center’s third-quarter study found:

Views about pandemic control – many Americans are still pessimistic about progress in controlling the pandemic, especially with the rapid growth of the Delta Variant:

  • Less than one-quarter of Americans (22%) agree that the pandemic is under control, down from almost one-third (32%) during the summer.
  • While 38% said the pandemic is getting better, that view is down considerably from 67% agreement during the second quarter.
  • Forty-three percent agree that we have learned how to live with COVID-19, down from more than half in the second quarter (53%).

Views about vaccination – the study found continuing broad disagreements about vaccination:

  • Forty-five percent said all or most businesses should require customers to be vaccinated.
  • Of Americans who are not vaccinated, more than half (53%) said they will never be vaccinated.

Lack of knowledge about vaccination – even though serious side effects caused by the COVID vaccines have been reported by only a small fraction of one percent of recipients, a large majority of those who refuse vaccination (84%) said their reason is concern about side effects. Regarding the vaccines:

  • Seventy-one percent said “I don’t think it’s safe,”
  • Fifty-eight percent said “I’m concerned about the ingredients in it.”

“Views about vaccination show that perhaps no other issue has created such divisions in what we think is true and not true,” Cole said. “When we consider information about the vaccine, it is clear that Americans live in two different worlds: one that is based on truth, and the other that spouts misinformation.”

Preventing pandemic spread – large but declining numbers of Americans in the third quarter believe mask-wearing and social distancing should continue, but those who avoid the unvaccinated have increased. Respondents said these measures should continue outside the home:

  • Wearing masks — 59%, compared to 63% in the second quarter.
  • Social distancing (outside the home from those not in your household) – 56%, down from 62% in the second quarter.
  • Avoid being near those who are not vaccinated: 38%, up from 11% in the second quarter.

Returning to the world – modest percentages said they are comfortable with returning to social events and work outside the home: Of those who are fully or partially vaccinated:

  • 43% will dine indoors at a restaurant
  • 37% will go to work in-person
  • 30% would go to a movie in a theater
  • 27% attend religious services in-person
  • 20% will ride public transportation

New opportunities for buying – more than one-quarter (26%) said they shopped in stores or online where they had not shopped a year ago.

The COVID Reset Project

The quarterly studies in the Center’s COVID Reset Project explore seven distinct yet related sectors: health and wellbeing, entertainment, homes and communities, learning, shopping, travel, and work — as well as looking at behavior about COVID. The study’s margin of error is plus or minus three percent.

The Center for the Digital Future: revealing disruption for two decades

For more than 20 years, the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg ( has explored the impact of digital technologies on the behavior and views of users and non-users. The center also studies disruption in the lives of Americans and the corporate world.