Optimism on COVID situation dwindling in US during delta variant surge, poll finds

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Optimism on the COVID-19 pandemic has dropped in the United States as the delta variant spreads in the country.

A Gallup poll released Monday found that more Americans think the pandemic is getting worse than think it’s getting better, that concern about contracting the virus is up and that many people think pandemic-related disruptions will extend through the end of 2021 or longer.

The poll of 3,475 adults was conducted July 19-26 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

It comes as the highly contagious delta variant has been rapidly spreading throughout the US — spurring COVID-19 outbreaks and prompting new face mask recommendations from public health officials.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week updated its guidance for people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, recommending they wear face masks in public indoor settings in areas with high or substantial COVID-19 transmission.

The agency also now recommends that fully vaccinated people who know they were exposed to COVID-19 get tested three to five days after and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they test negative.

Health officials have said the COVID-19 vaccines still protect against the delta variant and against serious illness from the coronavirus. But CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the guidance comes as new data has shown the delta variant behaves differently than other strains of the virus and that in rare cases some vaccinated people infected with it may be able to spread the virus to others.

The new Gallup poll was conducted during the “new spike in COVID-19 cases” but before the new CDC guidance.

Optimism vs. pessimism about the pandemic

Gallup found that 45% respondents think the COVID-19 situation is getting worse while 40% think it’s getting better

The new poll marks the first time since January that more Americans think the situation is getting worse than think it’s getting better, according to Gallup.

It also marks a significant drop in optimism compared to June, when Gallup found 89% of respondents said the situation was getting better and 3% said it was getting worse.

Americans also now expect coronavirus-related disruptions to last longer than they did in June.

Gallup found that 41% of respondents think “the level of disruption occurring to travel, school, work and public events” will last through the end up of 2021, up from 36% in June. An additional 42% said they think disruptions will last longer than through the end of 2021, up from 17% in June.

Meanwhile, 5% think they will last a few more weeks, down from 15% in June, and 12% said they think the disruptions will last a few more months, down from 32% in June.

Gallup also found that the number of Americans who think the pandemic is over dropped to 21% from 29%.

Concerns about the virus

Levels of concern about getting COVID-19 have increased, Gallup found, but they remain below where they were before the vaccines were widely available.

Now, 29% of respondents say they are somewhat or very worried about getting the virus, compared to 17% in June and nearing the level seen in April, when 30% were somewhat or very worried.

That’s still down from 2020 and earlier in 2021, when Gallup found “majorities of Americans” were worried about contracting the virus.

The poll also found that concern about getting COVID-19 is higher among vaccinated than unvaccinated people.

Thirty-three percent of respondents who are vaccinated against COVID-19 said they are somewhat or very worried about getting COVID-19, up from 18% in June, while 20% of people who are not vaccinated said they are somewhat or very worried, up from 15% in June.

More respondents now say they think it’s better for healthy people to stay home as much as possible to avoid spreading the coronavirus — 41% compared to 35% in June. Meanwhile, 59% say it’s better for people to “lead their normal lives as much as possible,” down from 65% in June.

Gallup found that, despite the increase in concerns, there’s “little evidence that people are altering their behavior to avoid exposure to it.”

“Nineteen percent of Americans say they are completely or mostly isolating themselves from people outside their household, essentially unchanged from 18% in June, which represented the low point in Gallup’s trend,” Gallup said.

Gallup also found “no meaningful change” in the percentage of people who are avoiding public places.

But it did find a change in the percentage of people who say they wear face masks in public.

“However, the change is in the opposite direction of what might be expected amid growing concern about the coronavirus,” Gallup said. “Sixty percent of Americans, down from 68% in June and 79% in May, report they wore a face mask in public in the past week. The decline may reflect relaxing of face-mask requirements at many public places, though some local areas are now reinstating those mandates.”

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