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Updated January 27th, 2022 at 12:44 IST

Most in US see pandemic as perpetual

Exhausted by new variants like delta and omicron, few Americans, just 15%, say they'll consider the pandemic over only when COVID-19 is largely eliminated, according to a new survey from the from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

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Will the pandemic ever really be 'over'? And what would that mean?

Exhausted by new variants like delta and omicron, few Americans, just 15%, say they'll consider the pandemic over only when COVID-19 is largely eliminated, according to a new survey from the from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

By contrast, 83% say they'll feel like the pandemic is over when it's largely a mild illness, like the seasonal flu.

In Minersville, Utah, Jamie Costello, 57, a math teacher and mother of eight, said her local school enforced social distancing and mask wearing during the 2021 school year, but this year they're back in class without those extra safety measures.

"It's a very fast-mutating virus," Costello says. "We're just going to eventually have to say, well, it's the flu and COVID season, instead of just the flu season."

The poll shows that for those who eased up on precautions before omicron, the measures are making a comeback.

Overall, 64% now say they are always or often avoiding large groups and 65% are wearing face masks around others, both up from 57% in December. Sixty percent say they are regularly avoiding nonessential travel, up from 53% one month ago. That level of precaution is the highest since last spring, before millions of Americans were fully vaccinated.

Early in the pandemic Colin Planalp, a 36-year-old public health researcher based in Minneapolis, said he and his wife worked at home for months on end, and kept their young son home. But when they got vaccinated they allowed themselves to go out more, to visit family out of state, even to work part-time in the office.

Then, the Delta variant hit, and they ratcheted up their precautions. With omicron, they upped them even more.

"I've switched to wearing N95 masks because I'm no longer confident in the regular cloth masks, and I hardly go out at all anymore," Planalp says. "We've canceled travel plans. My son has been out of school for more than a week now and hopefully he'll get to go back in a week. But who really knows?"

Vaccinated Americans remain much more likely to practice precautions than the unvaccinated. According to the same AP-NORC survey, Seventy-three percent of vaccinated Americans say they frequently a mask around others, compared with 37% of unvaccinated Americans.

Costello has not been vaccinated — not because she opposes vaccines, but because she has had severe reactions to flu shots and has recovered from COVID-19.

"I think parents... they should be the final decision," Costello says. "As a matter of fact, my daughter had all my grandkids vaccinated and I totally support her decision. I'm not against it, right? That was her choice with her kids, and I think that's good."

The poll also underscored what authorities say are alarmingly low COVID-19 vaccination rates in U.S. children ages 5 to 11. Among parents, just 37% consider it essential that their children are vaccinated before they return to normal.

Planalp got his 6-year-old son vaccinated as soon as he could. "Kids can get really sick from COVID," he says, faulting health authorities for not making that more clear to the public.

"We decided that there was very little risk to him getting vaccinated, and there was much more risk to not getting him vaccinated," Planalp says. "Both in terms of minor disruptions and missing day care or missing school now as well as there's not an insubstantial risk of serious consequences as well."

 

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Published January 27th, 2022 at 12:44 IST

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