Feb. 8 (UPI) -- Nearly three out of four people in the United States plan to continue wearing masks in public even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends, according to a survey conducted by Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Four out of five said they also will continue to avoid crowds, and 90% of participants said they will maintain frequent handwashing and sanitizer use after the coronavirus has been contained.
"While the progress we're making toward recovery is exciting, it's critical that we don't ease up on the precautions that we know have worked thus far," Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser said in a statement.
"Masks and physical distancing are still our best weapons for limiting spread and, now that we have a vaccine, will make those precautions even more effective and will drive new cases way down if we stay the course," said Gonsenhauser, chief quality and patient safety officer at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.
Continuing these practices may ease the anxiety of returning to public spaces -- wearing a mask, for example, can limit the spread of all respiratory viruses, including COVID-19 and the flu, experts at Ohio State Wexner said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies have recommended mask-wearing in public, avoiding large crowds and frequent hand-washing to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The Ohio State Wexner findings are based on a new national survey of more than 2,000 adults in the United States.
Among respondents, 72% of Americans said they plan to continue to wear masks in public after COVID-19 stops spreading around the country.
And 80% indicated they will still avoid crowds to limit their risk for getting infected with the coronavirus or other respiratory viruses.
Continuing these practices could lead to significant improvements in overall public health, as evidenced by the mild flu season across much of the United States this winter, according to Gonsenhauser.
"Flu cases and hospitalizations are way down compared to recent years [and] a lot of that is likely because precautions like masking, physical distancing and hand hygiene are working to prevent the flu," Gonsenhauser said.
"I think a lot of people realize what we've learned from COVID-19 can be applied more generally to keep our population healthy," he said.