In the last two weeks, COVID-19 became real to many Americans. For the first time in the Economist/YouGov Polls on COVID-19, more than half the public said they know about cases reported in their own community. The number grew nine points in the last week, and 19 points in the last two weeks.
Majorities in all parts of the country now report that COVID-19 has hit their communities. For the first time, half of Republicans see it where they live. Last week, 50 percent of Democrats knew coronavirus was in their communities; this week, 59 percent say that.
As COVID-19 moves closer to most of the country, Americans are less likely to describe the public response as an overreaction. Last week, one in four Americans thought most Americans were overreacting to the threat of the coronavirus. That percentage dropped ten points this week, and now only 15 percent say there have been mostly overreactions. That’s in part because community awareness increases worry, and those with community cases are taking it seriously. More than half of those who know of cases in their communities say Americans are not taking the risks of coronavirus seriously enough.
There is increased recognition as well that the epidemic won’t end soon, or at least won’t end until several months have passed. Part of the poll was conducted before the President announced an extension of social distancing rules in the country. Before then, his stated aspiration was to open the economy by Easter (April 12). Only 9 percent believe this is possible. More (39%) think social distancing will be able to end by May 1. Republicans are more hopeful than Democrats.
Three in five adults (60%) don’t believe the United States is well-prepared to deal with the outbreak, and nearly half don’t think the country is containing the virus particularly well. For example, by more than two to one, Americans recognize that there are currently not enough ventilators to go around.
This perception is a particular problem for the federal government. As was the case a week ago, more than half describe the federal government’s response to the crisis as only fair or poor. In contrast, state and local governments get more positive reviews. While 38 percent say the federal government’s handling of the outbreak is excellent or good; a majority (53%) say this about their state government and their local government (55%) response.
Americans are worried about the epidemic’s impact on the economy. The share that says they worked from home instead of going into their usual workplace rose to 35 percent last week from just 7 percent three weeks ago. Those who have cut back on eating out jumped nearly 30 points in the last two weeks.
Like last week, nearly half the public believes the economy is getting worse. Three in five (61%) expect the epidemic to lead to a recession, half say the country is already in one. Three in five think that recession will seriously affect them personally. However, they still would prioritize a government focus on protecting the country from the health effects of the virus over a focus on limiting the economic effects of the epidemic.
Majorities of Republicans and Democrats agree health is more important right now. However, that’s not necessarily what Americans believe their leaders are doing. Just about as many (27%) say leaders are paying more attention to the health effects as believe they are paying more attention to the economic effects (29%). But a plurality of every political identification sees politicians paying even more attention to scoring political points: 41 percent of Democrats, 42 percent of Republicans and 48 percent of Independents think this.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, has become the most trusted spokesperson when it comes to information about the coronavirus. Just 8 percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of him. Seven times that percentage are favorable. Republicans and Democrats agree about Dr. Fauci. 56 percent overall trust his medical advice, only 5 percent do not.