Americans are starting to care less-and-less about the COVID-19 pandemic, even as cases begin to rise once again in some parts of the country and officials in the White House warn that the country could be in for a rough fall and winter months.
A Gallup poll published Wednesday found that only 31 percent of Americans report being either ‘somewhat worried’ or ‘very worried’ about catching COVID-19, a three percent drop from version of the poll that was conducted in February. Within that group, 17 percent of Americans said they were ‘very worried’ about Covid still, a five percent drop.
The poll signals the shifting state of the virus as America approaches the summer months. In previous years, the warm weather months have come with large, devastating virus surges. In this year, though, a successful COVID-19 vaccine and booster rollout combined with the more mild nature of the Omicron variant and its sub-strains has left many feeling more comfortable with the virus.
Cases and deaths in America are rising as spring transitions into summer, though. The nation is recording 79,609 cases per day, a 30 percent increase over the past week, and 526 deaths per day, a 38 percent rise.
The survey was conducted in mid-April, when the trend of declining cases that had existed for nearly three months to that point coming off of the mid-January peak of the winter Omicron surge began to reverse.
Participants were asked of their feelings about the pandemic, the virus and what sort of personal mitigations strategies they were using – or ignoring – in their day-to-day life.
The study also found that 64 percent of Americans believed that the pandemic was ‘getting better’. At the time of the survey, cases had just dropped below 30,000 per day, making it one of the lowest points since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
Around 21 percent of Americans said they believed the situation was about the same, and only 12 percent believed it was getting worse. The last time this little amount of Americans believed the situation was getting worse was summer 2021, when cases were at a low point just before the explosion of the Delta variant.
These good feelings have led to some changes in behavior as well. Only 17 percent of Americans reported that they were still social distancing, the lowest point of the pandemic so far. Just under a third of Americans said they have avoided large crowds, a fifth reported avoiding public places and just 15 percent avoided small gatherings.
Those figures are also all pandemic-lows, Gallup reports.
Despite shifts in social distancing, Americans seem to be clinging on to masks. The poll found that half of Americans still wear a face mask in public places. While the 50 percent figure is also a pandemic low, it is significantly higher than the number of people reporting they are still worried about the virus.
The changing feelings on Covid are a positive sign for the future, but also come as officials warn that more pandemic related threats are forming around the world.
The prevalence of the new BA 2.12.1 Covid strain – the most infectious version of the virus being sequenced by U.S. health officials – is continuing to grow, officials report.
The strain, which was first detected in New York last month, now makes up 42.6 percent of sequenced Covid cases in America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on Tuesday. It is an increase from the 33 percent of cases the strain made up the prior week.
This newly detected version of the virus is a sub-lineage of the BA.2 ‘stealth’ variant, which remains the dominant strain as it makes up 56 percent of cases. The new strain is believed to have around a 27 percent growth advantage over its predecessor, and will likely take over as the nation’s dominant strain by the end of the month.
Every single Covid case sequenced by the CDC falls under the umbrella of the Omicron variant, with the Delta variant now having been totally snuffed out by its successor.
The BA.1 strain of the virus, which caused record case outbreaks across the world over the winter, now only makes up 0.6 percent of cases in the U.S., as its sub-variant have almost entirely overtaken it.
While the BA 2.12.1 strain has taken time to take over from the stealth variant as the dominant strain nationwide, it already makes up two out of every three cases in the New York and New Jersey region of the U.S., the CDC reports.
It is the only region of the country where the strain is dominant. It is also the part of the country where officials first detected this new strain in the U.S.
The new strain makes up nearly half of cases, 48 percent, in the Mid-Atlantic region of Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania, according to the CDC.
It also makes up over 40 percent of cases in New England and in the deep south regions of America.
Like previous strains, this version of the virus seems to be making its way across the country east-to-west, with prevalence dropping in further westward regions of the country.
In the Midwest, the variant makes up around one in three cases, just as it does in the Great Plains states out west. BA 2.12.1 makes up less than one-in-four cases in both the Southwest and the Pacific west, and only makes up 13 percent of cases in the Pacific Northwest.
The Midwestern Plains are an outlier, with the variant making up 46 percent of cases in states like Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.
Newer versions of Omicron may be on their way to America as well
There are growing concerns about the BA.4 and BA.5 strains of the virus, which are now making ground in South Africa, causing another surge in the nation. The country was also the first to suffer from the original version of Omicron in late November.
Last month, the World Health Organization announced that it is officially tracking the two strains of the virus as potential concerns.
A pre-print study out of South Africa also found that the two variants may have the ability to evade immunity to the virus provided by previous infection.
That could be a grave concern for officials, as the massive spread of Omicron during the winter months – giving a vast portion of Americans immunity to the virus in the process – will no longer protect people going forward, opening the door for yet another large surge.
These new threats have the White House worried that America could be in for a dark fall and winter months in the second half of 2022.
A senior official in the Biden administration told CNN that the White House is currently projecting around 100 million infections of the virus to occur during the upcoming fall and winter months – a time of the year where new case records have been set during both years of the pandemic.
For comparison, according to Johns Hopkins University data, around 40 million Covid cases were reported in America from September 1 to February 28. While this is likely a severe undercount because of the highly infectious, yet mild, nature of the Omicron variant, it means the White House believes case figures could reach even further heights this year when compared to last.