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How quickly will we reach post-COVID life? Americans’ optimism is waning, poll finds

The number of Americans who think normal life is more than a year away has more than tripled since the summer.
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The number of Americans who think normal, post-COVID-19 life is more than a year away has more than tripled since June, a new poll found. (Nam Y. Huh | AP Photo)

A new poll found Americans are increasingly pessimistic about when a normal, post-COVID-19 life will begin. 

An Axios-Ipsos poll conducted Oct. 8-11 found the number of people in the United States who think it will be more than a year until they can fully return to their “normal, pre-COVID” life has more than tripled since the summer. But the poll also found that many respondents have already resumed “something like normal” levels of some activities. 

The poll included 1,015 adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. The results follow a surge in new COVID-19 cases sparked by the highly-contagious delta variant and as the virus has infected more than 44.5 million and killed more than 716,000 people in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

While the country has largely forgone widespread coronavirus-related restrictions like those seen in 2020, face mask mandates or other restrictions have been reinstated in some areas. Additionally, some people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine are recommended to get a booster shot to help extend protection. Data has shown that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalizations and death, even with the delta variant. 

Now, new coronavirus cases have started to decline in the U.S. following the summer surge. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the downward trend is “good news” but cautioned the country not to “prematurely declare victory,” saying numbers could “bounce back.”

“We don’t want to always be on our edge that it’s going to happen because it won’t if we do what we should be doing — namely getting more people vaccinated,” Fauci told CNN.

Pessimism about a return to normal life 

Thirty percent of respondents said they think it will be more than a year from now until they are able to return to “normal, pre-COVID life,” the poll found. That’s up from 9% in an Axios-Ipsos poll conducted in June and 13% in May. 

The last time that many respondents said they thought it would be more than a year until they can return to normal life was in a poll conducted between late January and early February, when COVID-19 vaccines were just starting to become available to the public. 

An additional 24% of respondents said they think it will be “within the next year” that they can return to normal life while 9% said it will be in the next 6 months, 3% said it will be within the next three months and 1% said it will be within the next month.

Twenty-two percent of respondents said they have already returned to normal life, which is down from 28% in June. Meanwhile, 10% said they think they will never be able to fully return to normal life, up from 7% in June and nearing the high mark of 11% in mid-February. 

When asked what would “best indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic is ending and major restrictions can be lifted,” the most common answer — besides “don’t know” — was “when hospitals across the country have had normal operations, with no staff or equipment shortages, for at least one month,” with 19% selecting that answer. 

Another 18% said “when 75% or more Americans are vaccinated.” As of Tuesday, roughly 56.5% of people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency has said the coronavirus vaccines are safe and effective and recommends getting a vaccinated as soon as possible. 

Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is fully approved for people ages 16 and older and authorized for emergency use for children ages 12-15. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are also available under emergency use authorization for people ages 18 and older.

Americans resuming activities

The poll also found that fewer Americans think returning to their normal, pre-pandemic life would be a large risk to their “health and well-being” — 14% compared to 17% in late September and 24% in late August. 

An additional 34% said it would be a “moderate risk” while 36% said it would be a “small risk.” Meanwhile, 15% said it would be “no risk.” 

The poll also found many Americans have resumed “something like normal, pre-COVID levels” of some activities. 

Fifty-five percent said they’ve resumed “in-person gatherings of friends and family outside your household,” 59% said they have resumed eating in a restaurant, 32% said they have resumed traveling on an airplane or mass transit, and 36% said they have resumed “in-person events or conferences.” 

The CDC has said fully vaccinated people can return to many of their pre-pandemic activities but recommends that they wear a mask in public, indoor settings in areas with high or substantial COVID-19 transmission. People should “keep taking all precautions” until they are fully vaccinated, the CDC said.
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