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Americans Less Optimistic About COVID-19 Situation

Americans Less Optimistic About COVID-19 Situation

Story Highlights

  • 41% say situation getting better, down from 63%
  • Worry about getting COVID-19 is steady
  • Much less confidence that vaccines can protect against new variants

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans remain more optimistic than pessimistic about the coronavirus situation in the U.S., but substantially fewer express optimism than did so this spring. Gallup's latest COVID-19 survey finds 41% of U.S. adults saying the COVID-19 situation is getting better, down from 63% measured in late April and early May. Thirty percent, up from 15%, say the situation is getting worse, while 29% believe it is staying the same.


Americans' assessments of the COVID-19 situation have varied greatly over the course of the pandemic, typically in response to changes in infection rates throughout the country. Optimism was greatest in May and June 2021 when infections were sharply declining and most U.S. adults had gotten, or were getting, COVID-19 vaccinations.

In contrast, optimism was lowest in the fall of 2020, before the release of vaccines and at the beginning of an infection surge that would peak in January 2021. Americans were also decidedly pessimistic in August 2021 and January 2022, also times when COVID-19 cases spiked.

The latest survey, conducted July 26-Aug. 2, captures public opinion when new COVID-19 infections have risen to roughly 100,000 per day, on average, as the BA.2 variant has spread. By contrast, before Gallup's last update on Americans' reaction to the pandemic in April, the country was experiencing about 30,000 new cases per day.

All political party groups are less optimistic about the COVID-19 situation than they were in April, with declines of 27 percentage points among Democrats, 21 points among independents and 19 points among Republicans. Democrats have been, and continue to be, the least optimistic group. They are now more likely to say the situation is getting worse (44%) than to say it is getting better (29%), while independents and Republicans continue to be optimistic, on balance.


Most Expect Cases to Rise Later This Year; Don't See Pandemic as Over

Since the first COVID-19 cases were detected in the U.S. in early 2020, infections have generally increased in the fall and winter months, as occurred in late 2020/early 2021 and late 2021/early 2022. Most Americans expect a similar pattern to occur later this year, with two-thirds predicting COVID-19 infections will increase either a great deal (23%) or a moderate amount (43%).

Meanwhile, 27% think infections will stay at about the same level as they are now, while 8% expect them to decrease.

More than eight in 10 Democrats expect COVID-19 cases to rise this fall and winter, while slightly less than half of Republicans do. But Republicans are much more inclined to think cases will stay at about the level as they are now (42%) than to believe they will decrease (12%).


Expectations for a rise in cases later this year are consistent with Americans' beliefs, measured in a separate question in the survey, that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. Currently, 33% of U.S. adults say that the pandemic is over, while 67% say it is not. The one-third of Americans who think the pandemic has ended, while still the minority view, is essentially tied for the high in Gallup's trend, 34% measured in the April survey.

Worry About Getting COVID-19 Steady, but Fewer Confident They Can Avoid It

Americans' concern about personally contracting the coronavirus is unchanged, with 35% very or somewhat worried, similar to what Gallup has measured since last fall. Worry has been lower in the past, falling as low as 17% in June 2021, but has been as high as 58% in November 2020.


Although worry is steady, fewer Americans today (26%) than in the spring (36%) say they are very confident they can protect themselves from being infected by the coronavirus when out in public. The current figure is roughly half of what it was in May 2021 when vaccines were widely available and infections were declining.


In addition to the 26% of Americans who are very confident they can protect themselves from the coronavirus, 48% say they are somewhat confident, while 25% are not confident.

The drop in confidence may reflect a recognition that some of the new variants might be more resistant to existing vaccines. Forty-six percent of Americans are very (6%) or moderately (40%) confident that existing vaccines can protect people from new variants of the virus. A year ago, in July 2021, 71% were very or moderately confident that vaccines would protect them from new variants.

The poll also finds that 53% of Americans are worried about new strains of the virus spreading, although this is down from last year when between 61% and 68% were worried.

Complete Normalcy Elusive; Social Distancing Uncommon

An increasing but still relatively small share of Americans, 24%, say their life is completely back to the way it was before the pandemic. The current percentage saying their life has been fully restored to its pre-COVID state is now the highest in Gallup's trend and is up significantly from 9% in December.

The majority of Americans, 55%, say their life is "somewhat back to normal," while 21% say their life is not yet back to normal.


Thirty percent of those whose life is not completely back to normal -- equivalent to 23% of all U.S. adults -- believe their life will eventually get back to normal, resulting in 47% of U.S. adults either saying their life is already back to normal or they expect it to return to normal at some point. But that leaves the majority of U.S. adults, 53%, not expecting their life to ever be the same as it was before the pandemic.

A substantial 56% of Americans also say their life is being disrupted either a great deal (15%) or a fair amount (41%) by the coronavirus situation. But smaller percentages of Americans say they are taking active steps to avoid COVID-19. In fact, most of Gallup's measures of social distancing behavior are at or near low points since the pandemic began.

  • Nineteen percent of U.S. adults report they are completely (6%) or mostly (13%) isolating themselves from people outside their household, similar to the low of 17% who were doing so in late April. The figures have been relatively low since vaccines widely became available early in 2021.
  • The percentage of Americans who say they have worn a face mask outside their home in the past seven days has dipped to 47%, a new low in the trend. In April, 50% reported wearing masks, and in February, 68% did. In the latter half of 2020, more than nine in 10 U.S. adults routinely said they were wearing face masks.
  • Americans are also unlikely to say they are avoiding going to public places (22%), avoiding small gatherings (16%), avoiding large crowds (32%), and avoiding public transportation (25%), including airplanes.

Bottom Line

Americans appear to increasingly accept the coronavirus as a persistent part of life, believing the pandemic is not over and that cases will rise during the fall and winter months. The majority believe their life will never be the same as it was before the pandemic began. Perhaps because of this realization, Americans have largely abandoned the social distancing measures they commonly practiced in the earlier stages of the pandemic. They may accept the high likelihood they will get infected at some point and rely on vaccines to protect them from serious illness. However, these changes are occurring at a time when public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines' ability to protect people from new variants is waning.

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