Illustrated map of the United States showing quote bubbles where people participated in two Consumer Reports studies
Illustration: Sébastien Thibault

As part of Consumer Reports' ongoing research into how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting American life, our survey research team recently hosted two online discussion boards to ask people how they are coping with the disruption caused by the virus. 

Both studies were conducted from April 9 to 13. One included 24 participants, selected to represent a variety of ages, backgrounds, and income levels. They were asked questions about the overall impact that the pandemic was having on their lives. The other study focused on financial issues, with 22 participants who all said the virus had affected their jobs or income.

The feedback from these discussion boards provides a complement to our latest nationally representative survey, which was fielded at about the same time in April. 

More on the coronavirus

That survey found that 76 percent of Americans were either extremely or very concerned about widespread transmission of the coronavirus in the U.S., a 32-point jump from just a month before. The April survey also found that 89 percent of respondents were avoiding going to public places when possible, 38 percent had experienced depression or anxiety, and 29 percent had lost income due to the crisis.

The responses from our discussion board panelists show just how much that anxiety and isolation are affecting people. We heard the stories of people feeling bored and lonely in their homes, worried about their jobs, fearing for the health of themselves and their loved ones, yet still feeling hope, faith, and a deep empathy for others. Here are their stories. We want to hear yours, as well. Please share your experiences with us on social media using the hashtag #CRcovidstory.

(All of the panelists were compensated for their time, and we are identifying those featured in this article by their first names and places of residence, based on the permissions agreed to by the participants.)

Preparation

Some participants had stockpiles of supplies at the ready, but others were taken by surprise, or weren't sure how much they should prepare. People also came up against unexpected challenges, such as homeschooling children, boredom, and income loss.

"As a former Boy Scout I believe in 'be(ing) prepared,' the Boy Scout motto, so I already had face masks, water, TP, all the essentials. I've had these items for years—I'm one of those people who had a bathtub full of water for year 2000." 

Robert K., Ohio

"My friends and neighbors used to think I was crazy. Now, I am not known as a hoarder, but as someone who is prepared. Guess who calls me for supplies?" 

Tracie S., New York

"With the schools being closed, we have 5 boys at home all having to do the new 'homeschool' thing. It's tough! After spring break week is over, the schools will be switching to all online work, and with only 2 laptops, I'm wondering how I can make this work!"

Connie H.; West Virginia

"Emotionally, I am a wreck . . . At any given point I feel like I am overreacting and downplaying the situation at the same time." 

Megan K., Florida

Impact of Social Distancing

Social distancing was the norm for most people at the time of this study. Many indicated that they felt the guidelines were a necessary safety measure, but a few thought they were too restrictive. People also grappled with concern for loved ones, getting healthcare, and having the whole family home.

"My sons and daughter being home from college has increased our grocery and utility bills. They are bored and eating all day. It's getting expensive. Might have to get primitive and start hunting or fishing for food since grocery store shelves are out of everything."

James K., New Jersey

"I feel that many people aren't taking this pandemic seriously, and some people even feel that they're incapable of catching the virus. I don't mind being under lockdown for a long time as long as we're able to save lives." 

Samuel M., California

"I miss my normal everyday college life, going to class, being able to go to a coffee shop for breakfast, seeing my friends and going to stores. it makes me miss it because they are the simple small moments that we take for granted that are part of our everyday lives." 

Tais F., Georgia

"I feel we are all losing our freedoms as American citizens little by little as a result of the stay-at-home orders." 

Michael K., New Jersey

"When I had my baby nobody was allowed to be in the hospital with me while I had my son, which was very disappointing." 

Faithlynn S., Oklahoma

Work and Finances

Many of the participants in both of our panels have had their work and income impacted due to the pandemic. A few were laid off or furloughed, losing their entire income. But many of the participants expressed concerns about getting sick, which meant some people were faced with having to choose between their health and their income.

"I own a kitchen and bath remodeling company. Ever since the virus, a lot of new jobs have stopped. No one wants to have people in their place. For the first time in my life I have applied for unemployment."

Aykut Y., Washington, D.C.

"Since this pandemic I have not been able to work at all because I'm a server and they shut all the restaurants down. So I've had trouble paying rent and providing for me and my son."

Faithlynn S., Oklahoma

"Now everybody is here at home 24/7. My wife works here from the computer all day, more than when she was at the office."

Marcos L., Washington

"My husband is a essential worker so he needs to work every day, sometimes Saturday. Me and my kids stay home and I've been busy helping them with their homework. I'm afraid because my husband is exposed outside but so far our town has just few people who have tested positive."

Annie Rose H., Missouri

"My last paycheck was for one week only and right now I have $.92 in my account."

Megan K., Florida

"I literally am in tears typing this, my [pay] was the main income stream for my household. I have always had emergency savings, but I'm terrified to even touch that money because then it would feel like I have absolutely nothing." 

Stacy W., Georgia 

Silver Linings

We asked participants what, if anything, they've learned from the pandemic. Some said the virus had caused them to re-evaluate their priorities, while others pointed to more tangible things, like having more time to craft, talk to old friends, and learn new things about themselves.

"One good thing which did come out of this situation is I have learned I love helping people, and the reactions I get when I get Lysol wipes for someone who has gone to several different stores looking for them."

Michael K., New Jersey

"I miss some shopping, but actually have enjoyed the slowing down of life."

Robert K., Ohio

"I have seen so much good in the world lately. Local businesses have donated meals to the tired staff at the hospitals and the EMT's. I've seen a good friend of mine lose her job and in the same day get out and collect canned goods for elderly, disabled neighbors who couldn't get out to the stores, while her older daughter ran errands for them. I've seen awesome videos of families simply having fun with each other and just entertaining others in a time where it's truly needed. I know I've spent more time just talking with my boys."

Connie H., West Virginia

Thoughts About the Future

The future looks uncertain to many of the participants of our panels. Some predict that the pandemic will result in social changes, such as more working from home and less time in public spaces. Others expressed hope that we will move toward a safer "new normal."

"I don't think life will return to normal as we know it. I think there is going to be a new kind of normal that I am not going to like. I hate that everybody is so distant. I think the effects will decrease if people social distance . . . likely by the end of the summer. My fear is that it will resurface and we will start at square one again."

Tracie S., New York

"I think many businesses will strive to have more than 70% of their work force remote, not only because of the virus but because they will realize there are structural cost savings."

James W., Illinois

"People may start to always do fist bumps instead of shaking hands."

Colet C., Indiana

"I think my habits of cleaning my hands after every work transaction or keeping my distance is always going to be something I do from now on."

Dianna T., Texas

"Faith is the one thing getting me through all of this now. That alone has been my biggest and best lesson ever!" 

Tracie S., New York 

ILLUSTRATIONS: SÉBASTIEN THIBAULT