PHILADELPHIA — The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect society, but after two years, many Americans have decided it’s over. With the lifting of masking restrictions and test requirements, even those that have been masking indoors are returning to pre-pandemic behavior. Now, a new survey has found that more than half of Americans are ignoring COVID precautions such as mask-wearing, despite the possible health risks to themselves and others.
When asked when things will start getting back to normal, four in 10 people say it already happened. Another 42 percent predict it’ll be another year before things get back to normal. Twenty-three percent say we’ll likely live with the virus forever.
“After more than two years of experience with COVID-19 and its effects, the public is largely aware of the nature and risks of infection,” says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, in a media release. “A consistent percentage does not believe a pre-COVID normal will ever be restored. But a growing number have returned to their pre-COVID life. One can only hope that those in each group have accurately calculated the risks and benefits that their decision entails.”
Vaccines are changing everything
One reason 41 percent of Americans are going back to their pre-pandemic ways — a noticeable increase from the 16 percent in January 2022 — is because of access to vaccines. Nearly four in five (78%) respondents say they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to 74 percent in November 2021. Fully vaccinated for this survey means at least two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson shot. Among vaccinated Americans, 77 percent have gotten a booster shot. Sixty-five percent had one booster while 35 percent have received two boosters.
After multiple waves of COVID, more than half of Americans (54%) personally know someone who died because of the virus. More than half of survey respondents say they had COVID-19 or were sure they had it at some point since April 2021. Although it’s no substitute for a vaccine, studies show past infections can produce antibodies that can also protect against future infections.
Compared to a previous survey, fewer Americans are worried about contracting COVID today. However, more people seem to be worried about their close relatives being exposed to the virus. With any COVID-19 infection, vaccinated or not, there is always a risk of having long COVID. More people (71%) are now fully aware of the deleterious effects of long COVID, such as neurological issues and chronic fatigue. Despite that knowledge, fewer people are worried about getting long COVID (40%) now than in January (47%).
Another tool in the pandemic toolbox that may have eased COVID concerns is the FDA’s approval of Paxlovid. While 79 percent say they are unfamiliar with the drug, 61 percent find it to be a safe and effective treatment. Paxlovid is prescribed for mild to moderate COVID infection among people at high-risk of severe illness, hospitalization, or death.
Few Americans fear COVID variants
Breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated individuals have also gone up with more contagious and immune-evasive variants. Nearly two in three people (64%) believe vaccination does not fully protect against infection and 56 percent know someone who was sick but fully vaccinated. Despite all the risks COVID brings, 54 percent are not wearing a mask anymore when indoors and outside their home.
“The wiliness of the newer subvariants and the realities that vaccinated immunity wanes and breakthrough infections can occur, among even those who are vaccinated and boosted, have increased the importance of other modes of protection,” says Jamieson. “These forms of protection include the use of high-quality, well-fitted masks when indoors with others who are not part of our households. Sadly, we are seeing a dramatic drop in this simple form of protection.”