American Optimism on the Rise Even as Virus Becomes More Prevalent

Fewer Americans fear they or someone they love will catch the novel coronavirus while more of them are confident they will weather the financial storm the Covid-19 pandemic has wrought.

Jan Clever, 81, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., waves a U.S. flag while wearing a protective mask during a demonstration against California’s stay-at-home orders that were put in place due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Watchara Phomicinda/The Orange County Register via AP)

(CN) — The number of Americans who are very concerned their family members will contract the novel coronavirus has declined even as more individuals, particularly racial minorities, express fear about the outbreak and 40% of Americans report knowing someone who has the respiratory disease.

As of Monday, at least 79,935 Americans have died after getting sick from the virus and more than 1,340,000 have tested positive, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University

But according to a Monmouth University poll conducted as U.S. states begin reopening parts of their economies, 42% of Americans said they’re very concerned a family member will become seriously ill from the novel coronavirus. That figure is down from 50% who expressed this level of concern in an April poll.

Fewer Americans also reported feeling very hopeful (63%) that their families’ lives will go back to normal after the pandemic than did in April (69%).

Monday’s poll of 808 adults in the United States found 28% are somewhat concerned family members could get ill from Covid-19, while 14% said they’re not too concerned and 16% are not concerned at all.

More than half of Americans say the outbreak has had a major impact on their daily lives, the poll found, though the figure is down from 62% in April. The decline in concern levels is steady across Democratic, Republican and independent voters.

“Concern about [Covid-19] seems to have returned to where it was in the early days of the public response to the pandemic in this country,” Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a statement Monday.

Reports of decreased concern about viral spread come as 40% of survey respondents say they know someone who has contracted Covid-19, up 14 points from the April poll.

More Americans this month (14%) also reported having a family member who has gotten the deadly virus than did in April (7%), the poll found.

Irving Steinberg, pharmacotherapeutics and infectious diseases expert at the University of Southern California, said in an interview that people’s opinions on the threat of the outbreak change as their real or imagined proximity to it changes.

Having a close neighbor die after getting the virus or having an immediate relative lose their job due to the outbreak would drastically alter someone’s opinion on the seriousness of viral spread and their optimism about a national recovery, Steinberg said. 

“What people presume versus what the data show in terms of whether we are past the peak infection or where we are on flattening the curve may be based on where individuals are obtaining their information, and their belief in the sources,” said Steinberg.

More detailed questions about the impact of the outbreak on people’s lives could get past “emotion” based responses and uncover a more accurate picture of our country, Steinberg added.

“What does ‘struggling’ represent? That could mean people are not able to pay rent at all or that they’re just getting by. Those are two different circumstances,” Steinberg said. “Then again, someone could say ‘I’m struggling to pay my yacht.’ We need to know, how are people doing on a granular level?”

Levels of stress around the financial toll the pandemic has had on American families — and fears about income and status — have not changed from April, according to the poll. Half of the respondents expressed some level of confidence the country will limit the outbreak’s impact over the coming weeks.

The drop in concern about the pandemic was more pronounced in white respondents — 34% now compared to 46% in April — than Latinos (55% now compared to 60% last month), the poll said.

Asian, black and Latino respondents were also more likely to report having someone in their family who has gotten the coronavirus.

“The drop in feeling a major impact may be partly due to the fact that things have stabilized for most families after taking a hit in April,” said Murray.

But about one in five Americans, 23%, say they’re having trouble affording basic living expenses such as bills, a figure that remains mostly unchanged from last month. Another 13% say their financial situation is improving from last month, the poll found. 

The poll asked, “Thinking about your current financial situation, would you say you are struggling to remain where you are financially, basically stable in your current financial situation, or is your financial situation improving?”

Murray said in the statement the survey found Americans maintain an optimistic outlook on an economic recovery from the pandemic. 

“Americans seem to be differentiating between the short-term hit and their long-term prospects,” said Murray. “Most expect that they will be back on their feet once the pandemic has passed, although this number has slipped a bit in the past month.”

The poll was conducted by telephone between April 30 and May 4 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.  

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