As a number of states begin to reopen their economies, a clear majority of Americans believe they are moving too fast, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov coronavirus poll. Even residents of the reopened states agree.
Yet while the survey shows broad, continuing support for lockdown orders and skepticism about whether the time has come to lift them, a surprisingly large number of Americans seem reluctant to take the one step scientists say could actually bring the devastating coronavirus pandemic to an end.
Asked whether they plan to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if and when a vaccine arrives, a majority of Americans (55 percent) say yes.
The rest — a significant minority — say they won’t get vaccinated (19 percent) or they’re not sure (26 percent).
If those results were to hold, tens or even hundreds of millions of unimmunized Americans could ultimately undermine any vaccine’s ability to stop the spread of the virus.
Given that other polls have shown 84 percent of Americans believe it’s either extremely or very important that parents vaccinate their children, it’s possible — even likely — that many holdouts will change their minds once a COVID-19 inoculation is shown to be safe and effective. Yet even that 84 percent number is down 10 points since 2001 due to a tenacious anti-vaccination movement that has made its presence felt at recent right-wing anti-lockdown protests, suggesting that efforts to sow doubts about an eventual COVID-19 vaccine might find a receptive audience.
Either way, the survey’s seemingly contradictory results — caution about risking further spread coupled with skepticism about prevention — share a common source: fear. And that, more than anything else, is what the Yahoo News/YouGov poll found — that Americans are afraid.
They’re afraid, first and foremost, of reopening. A full 59 percent say states such as Georgia, Florida, Minnesota and Texas are “moving too fast” to reopen, while only 33 percent say the pace is “about right” and 8 percent say it’s “too slow.” Among residents of states that have already reopened — which tend to be more Republican than the country as a whole — the results are much the same: 55 percent say their states are moving too fast, 37 percent say “about right” and 8 percent say too slow.
Asked whether a series of places would be “safe for you and your family to go back to … now,” Americans are even more cautious. Parks and beaches seem safest — 48 percent say yes — but even then, 36 percent say no and 16 percent say they are unsure. Substantial majorities say they would not feel safe at schools (63 percent), churches (59 percent), professional sporting events (74 percent), concerts (77 percent), bars (73 percent) or restaurants (54 percent). Retail stores get a narrow vote of confidence, 42 percent to 39. Until these fears subside, American life, and the economy, will not return to normal.
Previous Yahoo News/YouGov tracking polls also found serious concerns about reopening, and those views haven’t changed. More than two-thirds of Americans remain more worried about lifting restrictions too quickly (69 percent) than too slowly (31 percent). More than three out of four (77 percent) still describe shelter-in-place orders as “the only way to stop the spread of coronavirus,” while just 23 percent say the “cure is worse than the disease.” A large majority (71 percent) still say the country should reopen only when public health officials are fully able to test and trace new cases and outbreaks, and not just “as soon as possible to prevent further economic damage.” And support for the protests against stay-at-home orders (21 percent) has not grown; it stood at 22 percent in the April 19 Yahoo News/YouGov survey.
What has grown is Americans’ awareness of the scale and scope and the stubborn persistence of the pandemic. More than half (54 percent) now believe total coronavirus fatalities will surpass 100,000, up from 38 percent in April. Fifty-eight percent currently predict that the pathogen will be a serious problem for at least another three months — up 20 points since March. Roughly half (51 percent) think a resurgence of infections would be very likely if the economy were to reopen today. When presented with the choice, three out of four (76 percent) say they would prefer another month of lockdown to an additional 25,000 deaths from the coronavirus. And just 13 percent say it would be safe to reopen the economy if there were 200,000 new cases and 3,000 deaths per day — post-lockdown numbers the U.S. could potentially reach by the end of May, according to an internal Trump administration document obtained Monday by the New York Times. More than two-thirds (69 percent) say it would not be safe to reopen under that scenario.
At the same time, Americans are also starting to acknowledge that reopening is inevitable — and struggling to adjust. With disapproval of the way President Trump has handled the pandemic at an all-time high (53 percent), the public appears to be losing trust in state governments as well; during the past two weeks, their approval ratings have fallen 12 percentage points, on net, from 59 percent positive, 36 percent negative, to 53 percent positive, 42 percent negative. Over the same period, the share of Americans who believe their own community is “now” ready to reopen has nearly doubled — yet it still stands at only 13 percent. Forty-six percent of Americans predict their community won’t be ready to reopen until June 15 or later.
As a result, people are preparing to take matters into their own hands. The share of Americans who say they will “voluntarily continue to practice social distancing even after official restrictions are lifted” has climbed 6 points from late April to 73 percent (driven largely by a 15-point increase among Democrats, to 87 percent). Two weeks ago, nearly three-quarters of Americans said they would continue to “stay 6 feet away from others whenever possible”; that number is essentially unchanged. Yet the poll found significant increases in support for all other social distancing measures, with clear majorities now saying they will wear cloth masks in public (up 11 points to 61 percent); that restaurants should require waiters to wear masks and gloves (up 11 points to 58 percent); and that large events like concerts and conferences should be suspended (up 5 points to 59 percent).
Looking ahead to the fall, Americans have mixed feelings about whether to reopen schools, with 39 percent in favor, 30 percent opposed and 31 percent unsure. But when it comes to how they want to cast their ballots in November’s election — the subject of some partisan dispute — Americans agree: 61 percent say they would rather vote by mail than in person.
Click here for the latest coronavirus news and updates. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please refer to the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.