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Americans' Optimism About COVID-19 Dashed as Cases Surge

Americans' Optimism About COVID-19 Dashed as Cases Surge

Story Highlights

  • 40%, down from 89%, say situation is getting better
  • Most now expect disruption to persist through end of 2021 or later
  • 19% practicing strict social distancing, compared with 18% in June

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In a dramatic shift from last month, more Americans now say the coronavirus situation in the U.S. is getting worse (45%) rather than better (40%). In June, a record 89% said the situation was getting better, while only 3% said it was getting worse.

Line graph. Americans' assessments of the coronavirus situation in the U.S. as getting better, staying the same or getting worse. Forty percent of Americans in July 2021 say the situation is getting better, 45% worse and 14% saying the same. Americans had been more positive than negative since February. In 2020, they were more likely to say things were getting worse, including a high of 73% in November.

The current survey marks the first time since January that more U.S. adults have been pessimistic than optimistic about the COVID-19 situation. There was greater pessimism than optimism for most of 2020. At its worst, 73% in November said the situation was deteriorating amid a dramatic surge in cases last fall.

Gallup's latest update on coronavirus attitudes comes from a July 19-26 web survey of U.S. adults who are members of Gallup's probability-based panel. The survey was conducted amid a new spike in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as the more contagious delta variant of the virus spreads through the country, but before the Centers for Disease Control revised its guidance on the wearing of face masks in public.

Americans now expect societal disruptions related to COVID-19 to persist at least through the end of the year, or longer. Whereas in June, nearly half of Americans expected COVID-related disruptions in society to last only a few more weeks or months, now just 17% believe they will end by then.

Instead, 41% expect the COVID-19 disruptions to persist through the end of the year, and 42% -- up from 17% in June -- believe they will stretch into 2022.

Americans Expect COVID-Related Disruptions to Persist Until the End of the Year or Longer
How long do you think the level of disruption occurring to travel, school, work and public events in the U.S. will continue?
Mar 2021 Apr 2021 May 2021 Jun 2021 Jul 2021
% % % % %
A few more weeks 4 5 11 15 5
A few more months 33 28 31 32 12
Through the end of 2021 44 44 39 36 41
Longer than that 19 23 18 17 42
Gallup Panel

Even when Americans were much more optimistic about the coronavirus situation in June, relatively few, 29%, believed the pandemic was over. But that already low number has declined this month, to 21%.

Concern About Getting COVID-19 Higher; More Advocate Staying Home

As coronavirus infections increase, Americans' concern about getting COVID-19 has grown, though it remains well below where it was before vaccines were widely available. Currently, 29% say they are very or somewhat worried about getting the virus, up from 17% in June and back to the level seen in April, when 30% were worried.

Majorities of Americans through most of 2020 and as recently as January were worried about getting COVID-19.

Line graph. Twenty-nine percent of U.S. adults in July 2021 are very or somewhat worried about getting the coronavirus. This is up from 17% in June. Worry was last higher in March 2021, at 35%, and majorities were worried for much of 2020 through January 2021, with the high being 58% in November.

Concern about getting the coronavirus is higher than a month ago among both those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and those who have not, but the increase is much larger among the vaccinated population. Thirty-three percent of vaccinated Americans are worried about getting the coronavirus, up from 18% in June. Meanwhile, 20% of unvaccinated Americans are worried, compared with 15% last month.

Line graph. Worry about getting COVID-19 by vaccination status. In January, 57% of vaccinated and 50% of unvaccinated Americans were worried about getting COVID-19. Both groups' worry declined in ensuing months before hitting lows in June, when 18% of vaccinated and 15% of unvaccinated Americans were worried. Now, in July 2021, 33% of those who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine are worried, compared with 20% of those who have not received a dose.

More Americans (41%) now than in June (35%) say the better advice for healthy people is to stay home as much as possible to avoid spreading the virus, as opposed to living their lives as they normally would. The June reading represented the low point in calls to stay home. Before April, consistent majorities held that view.

Line graph. Trend in Americans' views on the better advice for healthy people. In March 2020, 89% said the better advice was to stay home to avoid catching or spreading the coronavirus. This dropped to 69% in May but was above 60% through March 2021. In May, the percentage fell to 44% and dropped further to 35% in June, before increasing to 41% in July.

Greater Concern Not Yet Translating to Increased Avoidance Behavior

Although an increasing percentage of Americans perceive the COVID-19 situation to be worsening and more are concerned about catching the disease, there is 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.

  • There has also been no meaningful change since last month in the percentage of U.S. adults who say they are avoiding public places such as stores or restaurants (28%), small gatherings (20%), large crowds (40%), or traveling by plane, bus, or train (37%).

  • Proportions similar to last month's say they have visited various public places in the past 24 hours, including their workplace, grocery and other stores, restaurants, or someone else's home.

  • Forty-six percent of U.S. adults say their life is being disrupted a "great deal" or "fair amount" by the coronavirus, compared with 47% in June.

One area in which behavior has changed is wearing face masks when out in public. However, the change is in the opposite direction of what might be expected amid growing concern about the coronavirus. 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.

The declines in face-mask usage are similar among vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans. Currently, 68% of vaccinated Americans (down from 77%) and 42% of unvaccinated Americans (down from 49%) say they wore a face mask when in public during the past week.

Bottom Line

Americans appear to be well aware of the rate of COVID-19 infections in the U.S. at any given time. Gallup previously demonstrated a strong link between changes in infection rates and Americans' assessments of whether the situation was getting better or worse. July brought a new surge in infections, and the spike in cases this summer now exceeds the one seen last summer, before vaccines were available, though it is well below the U.S. peak in January of over 200,000 new infections per day.

Nonetheless, Americans are not yet ready to return to strict social distancing or to recommend that the country shut down. But along with their increased pessimism about the state of the pandemic, Americans foresee dealing with pandemic disruptions for far longer than they did just a month ago.

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