Most Americans Think It Will Be At Least 6 Months Before A Return To Normal From COVID-19

Signage reminds people to social distance on Lincoln Mall, May 20, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida. The city of Miami Beach is allowing non-essential "retail stores, personal grooming establishments, offices and museums" to reopen staring today.
Signage reminds people to social distance on Lincoln Mall, May 20, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida. The city of Miami Beach is allowing non-essential "retail stores, personal grooming establishments, offices and museums" to reopen staring today. CREDIT: Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

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BY LAURA SANTHANAM / PBS NewsHour

Most Americans think it will take six months or longer for daily life to return to a relative sense of normal, according to a new PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll. And as states begin the process of reopening, a majority of Americans are worried about a second wave of COVID-19 infections, too.

The poll also found that, if given the opportunity to avoid their polling place and instead cast a mail-in ballot for November’s presidential election, half of Americans would likely do so.

Republicans were far more optimistic about the country’s resilience than American adults overall, according to this latest poll, while Democrats were more pessimistic. Eleven percent of U.S. adults think the nation will be back to normal in a month, including 20 percent of Republicans, 1 percent of Democrats and 12 percent of independents.

Nearly a third of Americans think it will take the country less than six months to resume a relatively normal pace of life, but a majority of Americans — 65 percent — think it will be six months or longer to return to a sense of normal. One percent of U.S. adults don’t think their daily lives will ever return to normal, while another 1 percent believe they already have. An additional 1 percent never felt a change.

Coronavirus and the partisan divide

CREDIT: Megan McGrew/PBS NewsHour

Getting back to normal

For weeks, states have been relaxing social distancing restrictions to revive the economy, with Georgia, Texas and Florida among the earliest to reopen. During the months since the pandemic started, the United States has lost nearly 40 million jobs, eliminating employment gains made since the Great Recession. As nearly every state enters various phases of reopening, the country is “in a toe-dipping situation,” said Michael Chernew, a health economist and a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.

“People are limited by their caution, not just by the restrictions,” he said. “Even if there’s a minority of people who feel we should be getting back to normal, it’s hard to get back to normal when a significant portion of the people don’t feel that way.”

“It’s hard to get back to normal when a significant portion of the people don’t feel that way.”

Michael R. Strain, who directs economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said he was “shocked” by how divergently Democrats and Republicans viewed the nation’s reopening, especially given how differently parts of the country have experienced coronavirus.

“I expected that party affiliation would be the biggest difference, but it is so much bigger than region,” Strain said.

Poll: As states reopen after this coronavirus outbreak, when do you expect your daily life will return to a sense of normal?

CREDIT: Megan McGrew/PBS NewsHour

Risk of a second wave

While the coronavirus is continuing its sweep of the United States, most Americans are already bracing for a second wave of infections. More than three-quarters of U.S. adults — 77 percent — are concerned about another round of infections, while 23 percent of Americans are not.

That concern was sharply divided along party lines, with 93 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of independents saying they were nervous about another increase in infections. Republicans were more evenly split, with 57 percent saying they were concerned about a second wave and 43 percent saying they were not very concerned or not at all concerned.

So far, COVID-19 has killed more than 86,000 Americans, and more than 1.5 million have tested positive for the virus, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Nearly 290,000 additional Americans have recovered after getting sick. No vaccine or medication has completed trials nor been approved to treat or prevent COVID-19.

Researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, who developed computer modeling to project the virus’ spread, have suggested new infections could