- 49% say pandemic is over in the U.S.; 51% disagree
- Worry about the coronavirus, 25%, is down by half from a year ago
- Democrats and women still keeping their guard up more than others
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Three years after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and much of the U.S. went into lockdown, Americans are evenly divided about whether the coronavirus pandemic is over in the U.S. Forty-nine percent say it is, while 51% say it is not.
Gallup began asking Americans if they believed the pandemic was over in June 2021, as many states were lifting pandemic-related restrictions amid the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. The 29% who thought it was over at that time gave way to a less optimistic 18% by the fall, as a spike in infections from the delta variant heightened public worry. Since then, optimism has mostly only inched higher, rising to 34% last spring and to 44% in October before reaching 49% today.
Yet, a quarter of Americans still report they are very (3%) or somewhat (22%) worried they could catch the virus. This has been trending downward since January 2022, when worry spiked to 50% during the omicron variant surge, but it is still not as low as the 17% recorded in June 2021.
The latest results are based on a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults conducted Feb. 21-28 by web using the Gallup Panel.
Gallup began regularly tracking U.S. adults’ views of the pandemic in March 2020 and maintained weekly updates through August 2020, after which the polling shifted to monthly. Since 2022, the updates have been quarterly.
Fluctuating COVID-19 Outlook Steadier in Past Year
Americans’ perception of whether “the coronavirus situation” is getting better or worse fluctuated enormously in 2020 and 2021, generally following changes in the U.S. infection rate. The percentage saying the situation is getting better has been as high as 89% (in June 2021) and as low as 12% (in November 2020), with attitudes at times shifting by more than 20 percentage points from one month to the next.
However, since recovering from a strongly pessimistic turn in January 2022, more Americans have consistently said the coronavirus situation is getting better rather than worse, representing the longest stretch of optimism about the pandemic’s trajectory.
Currently, 62% say the situation is getting better and 30% say it is staying the same, while just 8% say it is worsening.
Strict Social Distancing Has Dwindled but Not Ended
Americans received a crash course in social distancing in 2020, with 75% by the end of March/early April reporting they were completely or mostly isolating themselves from people outside their household. Strict social distancing remained the norm through May and was typically adhered to by at least four in 10 Americans throughout most of 2020.
Since then, the percentage completely or mostly isolating themselves has dwindled to 15%, but another 35% -- up 10 points from October 2022 -- still report they are isolating themselves partially or a little. This results in about half of Americans now isolating between a little and a lot and leaves a slim 51% majority not making any attempt to isolate.
Nearly One in Four Still Avoiding Large Crowds
Gallup also asks Americans to report whether they have engaged in each of four specific social distancing behaviors in the past seven days.
Currently, 23% report they have avoided situations with large crowds, 18% have avoided traveling by air or public transportation (bus, subway or train), 14% have avoided going to public places such as stores or restaurants, and 10% have avoided small gatherings of people.
All of these behaviors were pervasive at the start of the pandemic, with as many as 91% avoiding large crowds, 89% avoiding transportation, 84% avoiding small gatherings and 79% avoiding public places. Although they are far less common today, the rank order of public adherence to them has been constant throughout the pandemic.
Masks Still Utilized by Three in 10
Americans’ use of face masks for protection from the coronavirus has followed a path similar to social distancing measures. During the second half of 2020, about 90% of Americans reported wearing a face mask in the past seven days. After some dips and rebounds in 2021, the rate fell steadily in 2022 before dropping to 31% in the latest poll.
While today’s rate of mask wearing is the lowest yet during the pandemic, it undoubtedly represents a sea change in public behavior since before 2020, when people were rarely seen wearing face masks in the U.S. outside of hospital settings.
Slight Majority of U.S. Adults Say They’ve Tested Positive for COVID-19
Fifty-two percent of Americans currently report that they have ever tested positive for COVID-19, and another 13% say they have not tested positive but believe they have had it.
Self-reported infection is up significantly from last fall, when 44% said they had ever tested positive. This most likely reflects the impact of the highly infectious omicron variant that became a “variant of concern” in November 2022 and now accounts for more than 90% of new cases in the U.S.
Eight in 10 Adults May Have Some Protective Antibodies Against COVID-19
According to the February survey, 83% of Americans may have some protective immunity against the coronavirus, either by being vaccinated (63%) or contracting COVID-19 (20%). The latter is based on respondents who say they have not been vaccinated but have tested positive for the virus.
Another 6% of Americans report they have neither been vaccinated nor tested positive but believe they have had COVID-19. Assuming they are correct about that illness, that would leave 11% with no protective immunity against the virus.
Democrats and Women Remain More Concerned
Similar to what Gallup has found previously, Democrats and women express more worry about the coronavirus than their counterparts and are more likely to employ social distancing, wear masks and be vaccinated.
Sizable partisan gaps persist across several measures related to COVID-19. Democrats are particularly more likely than Republicans to report isolating at least a little from non-household members, to worry about getting COVID-19, to have worn a face mask in the past week and to be vaccinated.
The gender differences in February are not quite as large as Gallup has seen previously. Still, women remain more likely than men to be very or somewhat worried about getting COVID-19, to have worn a face mask in the past seven days, and to be avoiding large crowds and public transportation. Women are also slightly more likely than men to say they have been vaccinated.
Prior Gallup research found that these gender differences are distinct from partisan gaps, with women more worried and cautious than men within each party group as well as overall. That largely persists today, such as with 24% of Democratic women versus 16% of Democratic men saying they’ve avoided public transportation in the past week. A similar gender gap on this question is seen among Republicans (16% of women versus 10% of men) and independents (23% versus 13%).
Democrats Still Reluctant to Declare Pandemic Over
The largest partisan gap observed in the poll involves perceptions of whether the pandemic is over. Three in four Republicans versus 28% of Democrats say it is. Independents are a bit closer to Republicans than Democrats on this question, with 55% saying it’s over.
Republicans’ views on the pandemic are essentially the same as when Gallup last asked this in October, while Democrats and independents have each grown slightly more likely to believe the pandemic has ended.
Three years after the coronavirus pandemic swept across the U.S., most Americans have left social distancing and masks behind, along with their anxiety about contracting the virus. The vast majority are either vaccinated or have had COVID-19, likely conferring confidence that they have protection against serious illness from the virus, if not future infection.
While in the minority, sizable segments of Americans -- disproportionately Democratic -- do continue to worry and take steps to avoid exposure. And although President Joe Biden has expressed his personal opinion that the pandemic is over, the 51% of Americans who are still not convinced may be waiting for public health officials to formally make that determination.
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