The United States surpassed four million known infections of the coronavirus on Thursday, with many more cases undetected, and at least 143,000 deaths – leading the world in confirmed cases and deaths and ranking near the top on a per-capita basis.
As the tally of coronavirus infections continues to climb, state and local governments have tried to find a balance between restrictions intended to limit the virus’s spread, such as closing bars and indoor dining at restaurants, and getting workers back on the job after many businesses were idled and millions of people were left jobless by the initial stay-at-home orders.
A new poll found that three out of four Americans favour requiring people to wear face coverings while outside their homes, reflecting fresh alarm over spiking coronavirus cases and a growing embrace of government advice intended to safeguard public health.
The survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research also found that about two-thirds of Americans disapprove of how President Donald Trump is handling the outbreak, an unwelcome sign for the White House in an election year shaped by the nation’s battle with the pandemic.
More than four months after government stay-at-home orders first swept across the US, the poll spotlights an America increasingly on edge about the virus. The federal government’s response is seen as falling short, and most Americans favour continued restrictions to stop the virus from spreading even if they might hamstring the economy.
The poll was conducted before Trump, who for months was dismissive of masks, said this week that it is patriotic to wear one.
“Not wearing a mask, to me, poses a greater risk of spreading the COVID,” said Darius Blevins, a 33-year-old from Christiansburg, Virginia, who works in bank operations. Blevins said he wears a mask in public because “it’s much more effective than not wearing the mask”.
It is an opinion echoed by data analyst James Shaw. “If you understand the facts, there is really no issue,” said Shaw, 56, of Noble, Illinois. “The data is crystal clear.”
For months health officials have said several simple steps could save lives – washing hands frequently, staying away from crowds, especially while indoors, and pulling on a mask when heading out to the supermarket, the office or a restaurant.
About half of Americans now say they are extremely or very worried about themselves or someone in their families being infected with the virus – about the same as in March, but a steep increase from June, when just 32 percent said they were that concerned.
There were other signs of continued unease. Support for limiting the size of gatherings ticked back up to 66 percent, after sliding for several months to a low of 59 percent in June. Eighty-five percent of Americans say they are avoiding large groups.
About half say they favour requiring people to stay in their homes except for essential trips. That number remained about steady since June. About half also favour requiring bars and restaurants to close.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans said restrictions to slow the spread of the virus should override concerns about damaging the economy, but California retiree Kimberly Greenan said she favours relaxing rules and allowing people to get back to work. Greenan says she wears a mask on trips to the grocery store and at church, but not if she is walking in a park, away from other people.
“If people are vigilant, if they do what’s right, this economy could come back,” said Greenan, 67, a former accountant and teacher from Santee, in the San Diego suburbs.
While tough steps were needed initially, “for the most part people are ready to get on with their lives,” she said. “I don’t think tying everyone down is the right move.”
The poll found that only 24 percent of Americans approve of the federal government’s response to the outbreak, with disapproval hitting 55 percent, ticking up 7 percentage points from May. The remainder did not have an opinion either way.
Trump’s recent endorsement of masks came after he said in April that “I just don’t want to wear one”. The president was not seen wearing a mask in public until July 11, months after the coronavirus took hold in the US. Trump has recently suggested the virus is under control, but he changed course on Tuesday, saying it will “get worse before it gets better”.
The same day he encouraged people to wear masks in public, Trump was seen speaking to others without wearing one in a public space of his hotel in Washington, DC.