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NYC Shoppers Prefer Stores That Enforce Social Distancing, Study Finds

FRIDAY, Aug. 14, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- New York City residents are more likely to shop in stores where social distancing is practiced than where it is ignored, a new study finds.

"We want to understand how people are making decisions based on compliance with the health guidelines," said Ricardo Daziano, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

"Until a vaccine is developed, policymakers need to not only find the best incentives for people to avoid physical proximity, they also need to create plans for relaxing social distancing in the future," he added.

Daziano said behavioral forecasts from the models developed in this project can help guide those decisions.

The experiment, which used a 3D simulation, was conducted online in May before phased reopening began in New York City. At that time, shoppers often had to wait in line outside so stores wouldn't exceed capacity limits.

The researchers found that the distance between people mattered. Compared to stores without social distancing, people were four times more likely to choose stores where 6-foot spacing was maintained, and nearly three times more likely to shop where people were 4-feet apart.

Also, the New York City shoppers were nearly twice as likely to opt for stores where people wore masks, the findings showed.

In future experiments, the researchers plan to use head-mounted virtual reality displays and mathematical models to see how people from varied backgrounds and political leanings react to health threats.

They also plan a survey of city residents to gauge how they judge risk as spaces reopen -- for example, asking if they prefer to sit indoors or outdoors at a restaurant.

"From a policy perspective, understanding that will help us plan or maybe redesign the reopening of businesses," Daziano said in a university news release. "We want to understand who is more likely to respect health guidelines, what the risk perceptions are in public spaces and how we can create incentives for individuals to sustain social distancing, so we can help guide decisions."

More information

Learn more about social distancing from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: Cornell University, news release, Aug. 10, 2020

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