Coronavirus concerns rise over past month -- but 3 in 10 still not worried, poll finds

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Two-thirds of Americans are now saying they’re at least somewhat concerned about contracting the coronavirus illness, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Concern rose dramatically in the past month: the new figure is up from less than half who said so in February.

Still, the new poll finds that about 3 in 10 Americans say they’re not worried at all about the coronavirus illness.

“Some set of people is still going about their daily lives, and that needs to change pretty rapidly,” said Caroline Pearson, senior vice president at NORC at the University of Chicago and a health policy expert. “Now they need to do the hard things, not just the easy things that don’t disrupt their life.”


The new poll found that younger adults have greater concerns about the coronavirus than older Americans, with 43 percent of adults under 30 being very worried, compared with 21 percent of those aged 60 and over.

Pearson said that may be because younger people are more likely to feel uncertain about jobs or health insurance, or to worry about older family members such as parents or grandparents.

That disparity by age does not match the threat posed by the virus.

Deaths to date in the U.S. mirror the experience in other countries, with about four out of five fatalities occurring in people 65 and older, and no deaths in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While the poll found that about 3 in 10 Americans say they’re highly worried about the illness, about the same number are unconcerned -- with 7 percent saying they were not taking any of the prevention measures asked about in the poll, including more frequent hand washing or staying away from large groups.

That’s a red flag for Libby Richards, a Purdue University nursing professor who teaches courses on population health.

“We do need that 33 percent to change if we’re going to keep this under control as much as possible,” Richards said, adding that “maybe that 7 percent of people are already excellent hand washers, but I doubt it.”

The survey found that about 9 in 10 Americans say they’re washing their hands more frequently, roughly 7 in 10 are avoiding large groups and about 6 in 10 are avoiding touching their faces. Older Americans are especially likely to say they’re avoiding large groups, with 77 percent saying they’ve done that in response to the coronavirus.

Public health officials have urged people to do their part to slow the spread of the virus before hospitals and other health facilities are overwhelmed.


But of those who had travel plans in the next few months, a minority -- 22 percent of those who had domestic travel plans and 41 percent of those with international travel plans -- say they’ve canceled them. About another 3 in 10 of each group say they’ve considered canceling, while the rest are still planning to travel.

The CDC has advised that travelers are more likely to get infected if they go to a destination where the virus is spreading and in crowded settings such as airports.

The poll was conducted March 12 through 16, when information about the virus was changing rapidly, as was the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.