Last year, the U.S. reported 1,288 COVID-19 deaths on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. Over 46,000 Americans were hospitalized because of the virus. And more than 5 percent of tests were still coming back positive, foreshadowing a huge summer surge.
At the time, a full 70 percent of Americans said they were either “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about COVID-19. Just 30 percent said they were “not very worried” or “not worried at all.”
Exactly one year later, as America prepares to celebrate the start of another summer, the latest data demonstrates just how dramatically things have changed — for the better.
The good news is not just that today’s COVID stats — roughly 500 daily deaths, on average; fewer than 27,000 hospitalizations; a test positivity rate that has plummeted to 2.3 percent — compare favorably with those from last Memorial Day. It’s that mass vaccination has been driving all of these metrics down by 10 to 20 percent week after week, and the trend shows no sign of stopping.
As a result, a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll finds that worries about COVID-19 have now fallen to their lowest level ever in the U.S., with just half of Americans saying they are now “very worried” (15 percent) or “somewhat worried” (35 percent) about the virus — and the other half saying they are “not very worried” (30 percent) or “not worried at all” (20 percent).
The survey of 1,588 U.S. adults, which was conducted from May 24 to May 26, offers some of the most encouraging news yet about how the country is awakening from its pandemic slumber and rediscovering the pleasures of normality.
A full 58 percent of Americans, for instance, now believe “the worst of the U.S. pandemic is already behind us” — an increase of 14 percentage points over the last month alone. Likewise, just 32 percent describe COVID-19 as a “very big problem,” roughly half the number (61 percent) who said the same last summer.
In turn, this growing sense of safety is rapidly changing the country’s attitude toward one of the most contentious aspects of the pandemic: masks. In late March, 78 percent of Americans said they covered their faces outside their homes “always” or “most of the time”; today, in the wake of updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that number has fallen to 56 percent. Just 35 percent now say they always wear a mask, down 22 points over the last two months.
Support for mask mandates has also been declining, from 63 percent in late April to 57 percent two weeks ago to 51 percent today.
Vaccination is driving much of this shift. Less than a quarter of vaccinated Americans say their life “hasn’t changed” after getting jabbed. Far more say they are now “less worried about getting COVID-19” (46 percent); “less worried about giving COVID-19 to others” (39 percent); and “socializing more with family and friends” (34 percent).
In perhaps the most striking change, 27 percent of vaccinated Americans now say they also “wear a mask indoors less often”— nearly double the share who said the same (15 percent) just two weeks ago. Overall, the percentage of vaccinated Americans who report wearing masks most of the time or more has declined 27 points (to 60 percent) since late March.
Overall comfort level continues to increase across the board. At least half the country now says it would personally feel comfortable gathering indoors with vaccinated people (59 percent); hugging vaccinated people with masks (50 percent); and eating or drinking indoors at a bar or restaurant (50 percent). And the numbers who say they’re comfortable with various other activities — hugging unvaccinated people without masks (29 percent); shaking hands (40 percent); gathering indoors with unvaccinated people (31 percent); attending a sporting event in a closed arena (29 percent); going on a family vacation by airplane (35 percent); and returning to the office (35 percent) — have all risen over the last two weeks.
Some of this growing ease may even be seeping into attitudes toward vaccination itself. Just 18 percent of Americans now say they will never get vaccinated, the lowest number to date. Since early May — when states across the country started incentivizing vaccination with cash prizes and other rewards — never-vax sentiment appears to have declined among several key groups: Republicans (down 7 points to 28 percent); Latinos (down 5 points to 13 percent); and Americans making less than $50,000 a year (down 3 percent to 23 percent).
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,588 U.S. adults interviewed online from May 24 to 26, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or non-vote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.8 percent.
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