About 31 percent of American adults said in April that they were “very” or “somewhat worried” about contracting the coronavirus, according to a new Gallup poll released on Wednesday, indicating that about two-thirds was not as worried, even as new confirmed cases began to rise steadily across the United States.
The survey was conducted between April 15 and April 23, at a time when new cases were increasing after plummeting from highs seen during the winter Omicron surge. On April 15, the daily average of new confirmed cases reported across the country was 37,003, according to a New York Times database. By April 23, new cases had risen to a daily average of 46,545. Experts say that confirmed case numbers could be undercounted, with an increasing reliance on at-home tests, whose results are not always officially reported.
The direction of case trends may be one factor in how Americans feel about the state of the pandemic. The data recorded in April was virtually similar to a poll recorded in mid-February, when 34 percent of American adults said they were “very” or “somewhat worried” about becoming ill with coronavirus. That earlier survey was conducted when the daily average was more than 100,000 cases per day, but falling steeply after Omicron’s peak.
A number of other factors likely play a role, including confidence after receiving a booster shot or having the virus. (Data released in April from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 60 percent of Americans – more than half of adults and three quarters of children – have now been infected with the coronavirus.)
“A lot of people have now had personal experiences of Omicron, and they will have observed that it is mild in the vast majority of cases, especially vaccinated and boosted,” said Dr. Bill Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
Mohamed Younis, editor-in-chief of Gallup, said that another factor that could affect how Americans feel about the state of the pandemic is messaging from public officials who have relaxed safety measures, like mask orders on air travel, as they signal a new phase of living with the virus.
“When you see those officials basically lowering the flag, using a less alarmist tone and telling people they can be a little less careful, we see that reflected in the data,” Mr. Younis said.
He added that people could be letting their guard down as the world has learned more about the coronavirus, along with the help of vaccines and new available treatment options.
“When you ask somebody if they’re worried they’ll get the virus, now that a lot of us have gotten the virus, I think it’s a very different kind of a question than it was back when we had no idea what this was like, ”Mr. Youis said.
The poll found other indications that Americans were less worried about the pandemic. Fewer Americans – about 32 percent of them, down from 41 percent in February – reported that they were more likely to avoid large crowds in April than in February. And fewer Americans said they were avoiding public places, about 21 percent, and small gatherings, about 15 percent, which were new lows for Gallup’s trends over the course of pandemic.
New confirmed cases continue to rise across the country, up 52 percent over the past two weeks, as of Tuesday. But Mr. Youis said that, for now, he does not expect to see a rise in the level of worry about the pandemic when the next Gallup poll is conducted.
“I would not expect it to go back up to where it was before,” he said. “That being said, it’s really important to remember that these are national numbers, and a lot of this has become such a local story.”
Still, Dr. Hanage said, concern could change later in the year if there is another surge in cases.
“Things are likely to be somewhat worse, especially in the fall and winter,” he said.