72% of Americans Know Someone Killed or Hospitalized by Covid-19, Pew Poll Finds

People hold up electric candles during a prayer vigil for victims of the covid-19 pandemic on October 19, 2020 in New York City.

People hold up electric candles during a prayer vigil for victims of the covid-19 pandemic on October 19, 2020 in New York City.
Photo: Michael M. Santiago (Getty Images)

Based on a large new Pew poll out today, about three-quarters of American adults know someone who has been hospitalized or killed by covid-19. Most Americans also believe that the pandemic remains a serious threat, though this belief appears to be influenced by people’s political affiliation, the poll suggests.

The findings come from a new report released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center. A nationally representative sample of over 10,000 Americans 18 and older were surveyed online in late August about a variety of topics related to the pandemic.

72% of participants said they personally knew someone who had died or been hospitalized by covid-19. But these rates were even higher for certain minority groups. 82% of Black respondents and 78% of Hispanic respondents said the same, compared to 70% of white and 64% of English-speaking Asian respondents, respectively. Both Black and Hispanic Americans have been disproportionately affected by covid-19, with substantially higher hospitalization and death rates than white and Asian Americans.

The results are in line with a CNN analysis out today, which estimates that one in 500 Americans have died from covid-19. At least 660,000 Americans officially have died—mere thousands away from the single largest official death toll ever caused by a pandemic in the U.S., the 1917-1918 flu. When taking excess deaths into account, however, covid-19 has long since passed that benchmark.

Despite a large majority of people now having a personal connection to the pandemic, though, public opinion on issues such as the need for vaccination and other restrictions remained more divided.

Overall, 62% in the Pew poll said they believed that the public health benefits of restrictions enacted throughout the pandemic outweighed the costs. But only 38% of Republican and Republican-leaning respondents said they felt the pandemic was currently a major threat to the health of Americans, compared to more than 80% of Democrat and independent respondents. About 60% of Republicans said they had gotten vaccinated, compared to 73% of Americans overall. Other groups with relatively low vaccination rates included those with no health insurance and White evangelical Protestants (both at 57%).

“One of the puzzles of public opinion has been how little knowing someone who has had a serious case of the coronavirus seems to matter in people’s outlook about the best ways to address the outbreak,” Cary Funk, director of science and society research at Pew, told Gizmodo. “In part, this reflects the fact that people’s personal choices around getting a covid-19 vaccine and their political outlook has a much stronger link with their support for vaccine mandates or restrictions on public activity.”

The poll was conducted before the Biden administration’s announcement that the federal government would impose or strongly pressure businesses across the country to enact a vaccine mandate, but companies and some local cities had already begun rolling out their own versions. 39% said that most businesses should require employees to get a covid-19 vaccine, while another 35% said that businesses should at least encourage but not mandate vaccines for employees. A majority also expressed support for people needing to offer proof of vaccination before traveling by airplane (61%), attending public schools and colleges (57%) and going to sporting events and concerts (56%). Support was split down the middle for vaccine passes to enter restaurants (50%) and negative for going inside shopping stores (46%).

As for the future ahead, simply being vaccinated wasn’t enough to dissuade many from being pessimistic. 54% said they feared that the worst of the pandemic was still to come.


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