As the COVID-19 Pandemic Enters the Third Year Most Adults Say They Have Not Fully Returned to Pre-Pandemic ‘Normal’

People of Color, Lower Income Adults, and Those With Chronic Conditions Are More Vigilant About COVID-19 Precautions Like Masking, and Want Others to Continue Them as Well

The Public Is Divided About Public Transportation Mask Requirement, With Half Wanting the Mandate Extended and the Other Half Wanting to Let it Expire

Conventional wisdom may be that Americans are ready to put COVID-19 in the rearview mirror and cast precautions aside, but the latest KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor report finds that most adults have not yet resumed all of their normal pre-pandemic activities and most continue to mask regularly in public places.

Six in ten adults (59%) say they have not fully returned to their normal pre-pandemic activities, including 42% who say they have returned to doing only some of these activities and 17% who say they are doing very few of the activities they did before the pandemic. A smaller share of adults say they have basically returned to normal (27%) or never changed their routine at all (14%). Majorities of unvaccinated adults (57%) and Republicans (55%), and nearly half of White adults (47%) report they never changed activity levels or have basically returned to normal.

Around half of adults (51%) say that in the past 30 days they wore a mask every time or most of the time when indoors in public places, including 28% who say they wore one every time. This was higher among Black adults, with 61% of Black adults masking every time and 20% masking most of the time. By contrast, 18% of White adults reported using a mask every time.

About six in ten (59%) adults think people should continue to wear masks in public places to minimize the spread of COVID-19. The survey, which was conducted prior to the FDA approval of a fourth booster dose for certain groups, shows 40% of adults think people should stop wearing masks in public places “so things can get back to normal.”

Black and Hispanic adults, those with a chronic condition, and those with lower incomes are more likely to want people to keep masking. Larger shares of Black adults (88%) and Hispanic adults (69%) say people should continue to wear a mask in public places, versus White adults (49%). This finding may be reflective of larger shares of Black and Hispanic adults working in service industries compared to White adults, increasing their risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Similar to past reports, views of masking are largely divided across political parties and by vaccination status. Eighty-five percent of Democrats say people should continue masking in public places as do 67% of vaccinated adults. On the other hand, nearly seven in ten Republicans (69%) and unvaccinated adults (67%) say people should stop masking to so things can get back to normal.

With the federal public transportation masking requirement set to expire April 18, adults are split on whether the requirement should expire (51%) or be extended (48%) but views are largely partisan. A majority of Democrats (72%) and vaccinated adults (54%) say they support extending the public transit masking requirement compared to around three quarters of Republicans (76%) and unvaccinated adults (73%) who support the April 18th expiration.

The latest KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor also finds that two-thirds of parents (63%) say the pandemic has negatively affected their child’s education and over half (55%) say the pandemic had a negative impact on their child’s mental health. Overall, about half of all adults (49%) say the pandemic has had a negative effect on their mental health but younger adults are more likely to report difficulties with their mental and physical health compared to other age groups. Two-thirds (67%) of young adults (ages 18–29) say the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health and 53% of this group reports a negative impact on their physical health.

When asked to name in their own words the hardest part of the pandemic over the past two years, people most often cited the lack of human interactions with about one in four (27%) adults saying the hardest part of the pandemic was isolating and not seeing people.

On the flip side, when asked about the positives of the pandemic, 24% of adults say changes brought about by the pandemic have made them closer to their families.

Designed and analyzed by public opinion researchers at KFF, the KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor was conducted from March 15-22 among a nationally representative probability-based sample of 1,243 adults. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish online (974) and by telephone (269). The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points for the full sample. For results based on subgroups, the margin of sampling error may be higher.

The KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor is an ongoing research project tracking the public’s attitudes and experiences with COVID-19 vaccinations. Using a combination of surveys and qualitative research, this project tracks the dynamic nature of public opinion as vaccine development and distribution unfold, including vaccine confidence and acceptance, information needs, trusted messengers and messages, as well as the public’s experiences with vaccination.

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