AP-NORC poll: Fear of virus infection spikes among Americans

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In this March 18, 2020 photo, a traveler checks his mobile telephone while passing a map of the United States on the way to the security checkpoint in the main terminal in Denver International Airport in Denver. Americans are increasingly worried they or a loved one will be infected by the coronavirus, with two-thirds now saying they're at least somewhat concerned up from less than half who said so a month ago. That's according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research that finds about 3 in 10 Americans say they're not worried at all. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

CHICAGO, Ill. – Concern among Americans that they or a loved one will be infected by the coronavirus rose dramatically in the past month, with two-thirds of the country now saying they’re at least somewhat concerned about contracting the COVID-19 illness.

That’s up from less than half who said so in February. Still, a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that about 3 in 10 Americans say they’re not worried at all about the coronavirus.

And while the survey found that most say they’re taking at least some actions to prevent the disease from spreading, experts say it also shows the country is not doing all of what’s needed to reduce infections, such as canceling travel.

“Some set of people is still going about their daily lives, and that needs to change pretty rapidly," said Caroline Pearson, a senior vice president at NORC at the University of Chicago and a health policy expert. “Now they need to do the hard things, not just the easy things that don't disrupt their life."

The poll found that younger adults have greater concerns about the coronavirus than older Americans, with 43% of adults under 30 being very worried, compared with 21% of those age 60 and over. Pearson said that may be because younger people are more likely to feel uncertain about jobs or health insurance or to worry about older family members like parents or grandparents.

That disparity by age does not match the threat posed by the virus. Deaths to date in the U.S. mirror the experience in other countries, with about 4 out of 5 fatalities occurring in people 65 and older, and no deaths in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the poll found that about 3 in 10 Americans say they're highly worried about the illness, about the same number are unconcerned — with 7% saying they were not taking any of the prevention measures asked about in the poll, including more frequent hand washing or staying away from large groups.

That's a red flag for Libby Richards, a Purdue University nursing professor who teaches courses on population health.