As the nation faces a staggering COVID surge, we’ve seen an abrupt retrenchment from daily life. For the first time since last spring, a majority report social distancing, while the perceived risk of spending time in person with friends and family, visiting retail stores, or eating out has returned to levels last seen in January and February of 2021.
This comes as COVID cases rise – among the vaccinated and unvaccinated – and public health officials warn that the Omicron variant is likely to reach “just about everybody.” The public is aware of the risks: The latest wave of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index finds that many think they’re now either more at risk or about as likely to catch the virus than they were at the start of the pandemic.
Against all this, COVID once again rises as a top priority that people would like Biden to address. COVID was the main priority at the start of 2021 but was later replaced by a focus on the economy as the public’s concern about the virus subsided. That calculus has changed with the recent explosion in cases.
At the same time, trust in both Joe Biden and the CDC continues has eroded since this time last year. Everything changes but nothing changes; this is our COVID world.
- Losing faith. More people than ever before think that a return to normal is either more than a year away or is simply not ever happening. This comes as public messaging around the virus shifts from exclusively defeating the virus to instead finding a way to live with it. The un-normal is now normal.
- Rising cases. One in four Americans report testing positive for COVID at some point since the pandemic began, according to the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index. But the surge in cases has been even more explosive for the unvaccinated – just under half now say they’ve had it. At the same time, breakthrough cases among the unvaccinated are also ticking up. Per the last wave of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index, 36% of the vaccinated who have received a positive test result said the virus hit them after they were fully vaccinated. No one escapes the virus' grip.
- COVID’s reach. In our current context of rampant transmissibility, people generally feel that they’re either at the same level of risk of getting the virus as they were back in April 2020, or feel even more at risk. Consider how much the context has changed from just two months ago. Fear breeds fear; that is the only way to understand the numbers.
- COVID refocused. In light of the last three points, it will surely not come as a surprise to learn that Americans increasingly identify COVID as one of the top priorities for Biden to address. The economy is still in first place, but the pandemic is a close second. This is likely bad news for Biden and the Dems. They won in 2020 on COVID but risk losing in 2022 on the same.
- Trust diminished. The Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index show a clear decline in trust in both the CDC and Biden to provide accurate information about the virus, from last year to now. Americans might not be patient; but the virus is. Going about our lives as normal despite the crescendo of cases has, in part, led us to the situation we’re in today. But those at the top may be paying a reputational price.
A year ago, people generally thought that 2021 would mark the end of the virus. Unfortunately, we weren’t so lucky. Omicron might be the last and final monstrous wave. But that seems doubtful. Prepare for the long haul.