Most Americans say some restrictions on normal activities should remain in place to try to control the coronavirus, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, which finds that public wariness of the pandemic lingers even as federal health officials and a growing roster of governors have softened mask advice.
The nationwide survey also shows that, two years into a health crisis that has claimed nearly 950,000 lives in the United States, bipartisan majorities think the virus is only “somewhat under control” or “not at all” controlled. Even so, most say they have fully or mostly returned to their normal, pre-coronavirus activities.
Perceptions of the dangers posed by the coronavirus and attitudes toward restrictions reveal substantial partisan differences, according to the poll. Taken together, just over a third of U.S. adults say the coronavirus pandemic is “mostly” or “completely” under control; but 29 percent of Democrats say they hold that view, compared with 41 percent of Republicans.
The 34 percent overall who say they regard the pandemic as largely controlled is among the highest proportion since surveys began tracking such attitudes early in the pandemic. Yet nearly 6 in 10 U.S. adults think it is more important to control the virus, with some restrictions in daily life, while 4 in 10 prefer no restrictions.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted immediately before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a new framework Friday based on a revised set of metrics that dramatically reduces the areas of the country where the public health agency recommends people wear masks. The new formula is designed with the goals of protecting people from serious illness and preventing hospitals and other parts of communities’ health-care systems from being overrun with covid-19 patients.
At the moment, the new criteria narrows where the CDC recommends mask-wearing to about 28 percent of the U.S. population.
View detailed crosstabs here.
The CDC made the changes as many Democratic governors recently lifted state mask mandates, while many Republican governors had rescinded them earlier or never required masks in the first place.
Those government actions may not line up with public attitudes, even though politicians have felt pressure from constituents weary of the pandemic and business owners eager to restore their pre-pandemic levels of commerce. The poll does not explicitly ask about masks as a way to curb the virus’s spread or any other specific public health strategy.
However, other recent surveys have found that more Americans still favor rather than oppose mask requirements, although support for the idea has dipped in the past year. An Economist-YouGov poll released last week found that 52 percent of Americans supported a mask mandate for indoor spaces, while 38 percent opposed the idea. An Associated Press-NORC poll released Monday found that half of Americans support mandates to wear masks when people are around others outside their homes, while fewer than 3 in 10 opposed such requirements.
The Post-ABC News poll finds that most Americans have strong opinions about the wisdom of pandemic-fighting measures in general. Thirty-five percent of U.S. adults say they feel strongly that it is important to maintain some restrictions, while another 30 percent say they strongly believe such restrictions should be removed.
The divergent views are tied to political frames of reference, with more than 8 in 10 Democrats preferring to retain measures to control the virus, while over 6 in 10 Republicans prefer no restrictions on normal activities.
When it comes to how people are conducting their lives as the pandemic enters a third year, 56 percent say they have mostly or fully returned to what their lives were like before. But Americans’ political affiliations are associated with significant differences in how they are conducting their lives as the pandemic continues. Among Republicans, 63 percent say they have fully or mostly returned to the way they lived before the coronavirus arrived, compared with 44 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents.
In tandem with their politics, Americans of different racial and ethnic groups also differ markedly in the extent to which they have resumed their pre-pandemic way of life. Nearly 1 in 4 U.S. adults who are White or Hispanic say they are fully back to their normal lives before the coronavirus, but slightly more than 1 in 10 who are Black say the same. On the other hand, just 1 in 10 White Americans say their lives have barely returned to normal, while more than 1 in 5 who are Black or Hispanic describe their lives that way.
Timothy Pledger said he almost never goes farther than his mailbox in the parking lot of his Norfolk apartment complex. Pledger, 61, who is Black and a Democrat, said he has essentially quarantined since he got home in October from two weeks in the hospital, where he learned he had two large blood clots in his lungs. For years, he has been on long-term disability from a job as an inspector with the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Even before the clots and the blood thinners, he did not go out often, frightened of the coronavirus. Still, he has not been vaccinated against it, wary of possible side effects and unconvinced that it would protect him enough from infection.
Pledger has his groceries delivered, but he said masks should be required when people go to stores, schools, churches or anywhere else they will be in proximity to a group. Vaccinated or not, he said, “the mask is the last, last defense. … I think it should be mandated.”
In Tupelo, Miss., Jeremy McMahan, 46, also is not vaccinated. He is White, a Republican and owns his own business, All American Roofing. He has gotten covid-19 twice and wasn’t very sick either time. His second case, in early January, “was as mild as the change of seasons — just a little drippy nose,” he said.
During the first months of the pandemic, McMahan said, he stayed out of his customers’ houses. But since last year, he had been going back inside, drinking sweet tea and talking about children and church before getting around to talking about roofs. He said his fiancee, an administrator at a 140-bed Tupelo nursing home, wears a mask at work and gets tested but doesn’t take precautions outside of that.
He feels safe in his small city, he said. Even when he was in Dallas recently, “I didn’t see lots of masks, didn’t see people shelter away. Restaurants were full of people. … It seems like the pandemic is under control, the virus is getting less and less strong. We are not having any spikes. Our hospitals are not overrun with covid.”
“Life,” McMahan said, “has returned to normal.”
The Post-ABC poll was conducted Feb. 20 to Feb. 24 among a random sample of 1,011 U.S. adults, reached on cellphones and landlines. The margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points for the overall results and larger among subgroups.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.
The latest: A surge in infections in Western Europe, fueled by the subvariant of omicron known as BA.2, has experts and health authorities on alert for another wave of the pandemic in the United States. See the latest coronavirus numbers and how the omicron variant has spread across the world.
At-home tests: Here’s how to use at-home covid tests, where to find them and how they differ from PCR tests.
Mask guidance: The CDC has eased mask recommendations for the vast majority of the country. The change followed a relaxation of restrictions by most Democratic governors responding to nosediving case counts and public pressure.
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