By MICHAEL RUBINKAM and HANNAH FINGERHUT, Associated Press
Omicron disappears, and so do Americans’ concerns about COVID-19.
As the number of cases of coronavirus pandemic, hospitalizations and deaths continues to fall, fewer people now than in January say they are worried they will be infected after the rise and fall of the wildly contagious virus variant, according to a new poll from The Associated Press. NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Only 24% say they are “extremely” or “very” worried about themselves or a family member receiving COVID-19, a drop from 36% in both December and January, when omicron caused a massive increase in infections and taxed public health systems. A further 34% say they are somewhat concerned. More than 140,000 deaths in the United States have been attributed to COVID-19 since omicron became the dominant strain of coronavirus in mid-December.
In Lincoln, Nebraska, trucking dispatcher Erica Martinez said she failed her guard last summer before the deadly Delta variant took hold, and then “stopped doing a lot of the social stuff” as cases rose again in succession. waves of delta and omicron. Now that virus numbers are falling rapidly, she said she is more comfortable with socializing than she has been for several months.
“I feel like the country is desperately trying to recover after the last two years,” said Martinez, 36. “I think there will always be new varieties popping up, left and right. Unfortunately, I think this will be the new norm for society, ”with people taking fewer or more precautions when cases ebb and flow.
It is a widespread attitude; most Americans believe the virus will persist as a mild disease, according to an AP-NORC study in January. Only 15% believe that COVID-19 will be largely eliminated once the pandemic is over.
Signs that the nation is ready to move on from the largest COVID-19 wave to date are everywhere. State-wide masking mandates have almost disappeared, and on Friday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it no longer recommends indoor masking for most Americans based on current data.
Cities lift vaccine requirements to enter bars, restaurants and entertainment venues. Companies bring workers back to the office. California said it is taking an “endemic” approach to the virus, which relies on prevention and rapid containment of outbreaks.
“I think it’s fair and appropriate for people to live their lives a little more as the risk of infection decreases, but to do so in a way that recognizes that at some point we will have another wave,” said Dr. . David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “And we’ll have to be willing to tighten up a little bit in the future.”
Concerns about infection have surfaced among both vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans. Yet about two-thirds of vaccinated Americans say they are at least somewhat concerned about COVID-19 infection. About 4 out of 10 unvaccinated Americans say the same thing.
Amie Adkins of Gassaway, West Virginia, who is unvaccinated, said she was “surrounded” by omicron, but she was never worried about getting it, and counted on a mask and good hygiene to protect herself. Data show that unvaccinated people have a much higher risk of serious illness and death than people who got the shot.
“Even after all that, if we’re going to get something, we’ll get it, and there’s nothing we can do about it. So it’s no use worrying about it,” said Adkins, a 43-year-old stay-at-home mom.
Public support for masking demands has also declined, though Americans are still more likely to prefer than to oppose demands for masks in public, 50% to 28%, in the new poll. In August 2021, 55% were for. The support was much higher, about three quarters of the population, in 2020.
George Reeves, an 83-year-old half-retired electrical engineer in Raleigh, North Carolina, said his mask could soon come off.
“It’s a risk-reward kind of thing,” said Reeves, who has been vaccinated. “There is some guesswork involved, but is it worth it? It will probably not be worth the hassle of messing around with masks soon.”
More generally, concerns about the spread of infectious diseases as a threat to the United States have fallen sharply from a clear majority just six months ago, according to the poll.
About half of Americans now say they are “extremely” or “very” concerned about the threat of infectious diseases, down from about two-thirds in August. Still, only about 2 out of 10 are not worried.
The current level of concern corresponds to an AP-NORC survey in January 2019, long before the global pandemic.
Dave Pitts, a computer engineer and college professor of math and science in Denver, is vaccinated, does not socialize much, and wears a mask when he goes out, so he is not so worried about getting COVID-19. But Pitts – who spent three miserable weeks battling the flu in the 2009 H1N1 pandemic – predicts that infectious diseases will continue to pose a huge threat to the country.
He worries about a new, even more deadly variant of coronavirus.
“I think we are in a better position now, but I think that the moment the spring break hits, we will see something worse emerge,” he said. “I think humanity is too stupid to get rid of this yet.”
The United States is still reporting about 66,000 new, confirmed infections a day as the pandemic enters its third year.
In North Carolina, Reeves’ restaurant gift card has been gathering dust for two years. He said it will soon change as the virus eases its grip.
“After being vaccinated, the likelihood of a bad result is really low. I am reasonably well protected,” he said.
Martinez, the transportation shipper in Nebraska, said she looks forward to “actually going on vacation now, a vacation to try to feel as normal as possible. Maybe Mexico. Mexico sounds wonderful right now.”
The AP-NORC study of 1,289 adults was conducted 18-21. February using a sample from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the American people. The margin for sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.