Virus Talk Is Inescapable, 44% of Americans Tell Pew

A manicurist at Salon a la Mode in Dallas polishes a customer’s nails. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Coronavirus spreads through the air, but this probably isn’t what they mean. For many Americans, the pandemic is just about all they talk about, the Pew Research Center reported Wednesday afternoon.

Pew conducted the study from April 20-26, finding that 44% of U.S. adults say that — whether online, in person or over the phone — the coronavirus outbreak is ubiquitous in people’s conversations.

The pandemic has many Americans worried both about their risk of contracting the disease and how their finances are affected by quarantine measures put in place by the public health crisis.

Of the 10,139 adults interviewed in early April, 43% said they or someone in their household had lost their job or taken a pay cut due to the outbreak, while 24% said they were very concerned about contracting the virus and requiring hospitalization.

Pew over the past few months has talked to Americans about how stay-at-home orders impacts the way they worship, shop for food, and socialize with their friends and family.

While about a third of adults surveyed, 31%, said they discuss the outbreak “most of the time,” an additional 13% reported that they discuss Covid-19 almost all the time, according to the poll, which Pew conducted as part of its American News Pathways project.

Just 11% said the virus comes up never or rarely in their conversations, but the largest segment, 45%, said it comes up sometimes.

“Everyone has a different limit for what is healthy for them personally,” Kira Mauseth, a professor of psychology at Seattle University, said in an email. “Sometimes people get caught up in chasing story after story in an attempt to alleviate their own anxiety by finding answers. The problem is that there are so many unknowns generally about Covid-19 that chasing answers doesn’t always help because sometimes those answers aren’t there to be found.”

Mauseth suggested that individuals establish healthy boundaries for their news intake and to be willing to turn off their televisions or cellphone. 

Mental Health America, a nonprofit that has offered a free, anonymous screening program online since 2014, reported last week that 18,000 more people sought help for anxiety or depression since the start of the pandemic.

Approximately 14,000 of the individuals that MHA screened in March and April had considered suicide or self-harm. MHA links the pandemic to the moderate-to-severe depression that at least 10,193 people experienced from late February through the end of April. At least 7,629 of those screened showed signs of moderate to severe anxiety.

As its screening numbers rise, MHA said it has seen a 70% increase in the number of people being screened for anxiety and a 64% increase in the number of people being screened for depression between January and April.

These 17,822 people who are newly positive for anxiety and depression since the beginning of the pandemic represent “the tip of an iceberg,” MHA said.

Breaking Pew’s study down demographically, it found that women were somewhat more likely than men to discuss Covid-19 (47%–41%), while black adults (52%) were more likely to discuss it as compared with Hispanic (46%) or white adults (41%). 

Pew’s poll found a slight increase in those discussing the disease based on news sources, with 60% of those who cited The New York Times as their primary source of information, 51% got their information from CNN and 39% from Fox News.

Pew found similar results in terms of partisanship and perceived trustworthiness of their news. New York Times readers and CNN viewers were more likely to identify as Democrat, while Fox viewers were more likely to identify as Republican. A Pew study from last week found that 66% of Democrats interviewed said that they believed the news coverage of Covid-19 was reliable, a sentiment shared by just 31% of Republicans.

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