Washington, March 11: About 1 in 5 Americans say they lost a relative or close friend to the coronavirus, highlighting the division between heartache and hope as the country itches to get back to normal a year into the pandemic. A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research illustrates how the stage is set for a two-tiered recovery.
The public’s worry about the virus has dropped to its lowest point since the fall, before the holidays brought skyrocketing cases into the new year.
But people still in mourning express frustration at the continued struggle to stay safe.
“We didn’t have a chance to grieve. It’s almost like it happened yesterday for us. It’s still fresh,” said Nettie Parks of Volusia County, Florida, whose only brother died of COVID-19 last April. Because of travel restrictions, Parks and her five sisters have yet to hold a memorial. One Year to COVID-19 Pandemic: How Has Life Changed? WFH, Mental Health Crisis, Remote Learning & More, 6 Ways We Deal With the ‘New Normal’.
Parks, 60, said she retired from her customer service job last year in part because of worry about workplace exposure, and now she is watching with dread as more states and cities relax health rules.
Only about 3 in 10 Americans are very worried about themselves or a family member being infected with the virus, down from about 4 in 10 in recent months. Still, a majority are at least somewhat worried.
“They’re letting their guard down and they shouldn’t,” Parks said. “People are going to have to realise this thing is not going anywhere. It’s not over.”
COVID-19’s toll is staggering, more than 527,000 dead in the U.S. alone, and counting.
But “it’s hard to conceptualize the true danger if you don’t know it personally,” said Dr. K. Luan Phan, psychiatry chief at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.
For those who lost a loved one, “that fear is most salient in them. They’re going to be a lot more cautious as businesses reopen and as schools start back,” Phan said.
And without that first-hand experience, even people who heeded health officials’ pleas to stay masked and keep their distance are succumbing to pandemic fatigue because “fears tend to habituate,” he said.
Communities of color were hardest hit by the coronavirus. The AP-NORC poll found about 30 per cent of African Americans, like Parks, and Hispanics know a relative or close friend who died from the virus, compared with 15 per cent of white people.
That translates into differences in how worried people are about a virus that remains a serious threat until most of the country — and the world — gets vaccinated.
Despite recent drops in cases, 43 per cent of Black Americans and 39 per cent of Hispanics are very or extremely worried about themselves or a loved one getting COVID-19, compared to just 25 per cent of white people. (For other racial and ethnic groups, sample sizes are too small to analyze.). After COVID-19 Pandemic Year, Weary World Looks Back – and Forward.
While vaccines offer real hope for ending the scourge, the poll also found about 1 in 3 Americans don’t intend to get their shot. The most reluctant: Younger adults, people without college degrees, and Republicans.
The hardest-hit are also having the hardest time getting vaccinated: 16 per cent of Black Americans and 15 per cent of Hispanics say they already have received at least one shot, compared to 26 per cent of white people. But majorities in each group want to get vaccinated.
Currently demand for vaccines still outstrips supply, and about 4 in 10 Americans, especially older adults, say the sign-up process has been poor. John Perez, a retired teacher and school administrator in Los Angeles, spent hours trying to sign up online before giving up. Then a friend found a drive-thru vaccination site with openings.
“When I was driving there for the first shot, I was going through a tunnel of emotions,” the 68-year-old said. “I knew what a special moment it was.” Overall, confidence in the vaccines is slowly strengthening. The poll found 25% of Americans aren’t confident the shots were properly tested, down somewhat from 32% who expected they wouldn’t be in December, just before the first ones were cleared.
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