AP-NORC poll: Americans harbor strong fear of new infections

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FILE - In this April 27, 2020, file photo, Jason Godbey hangs a banner over the entrance of Madison Chop House Grille as they prepare to shift from take out only to dine-in service in Madison, Ga. Gov. Strong concern about a second wave of coronavirus infections is reinforcing widespread opposition among Americans to reopening public places, a new polls finds, even as many state leaders step up efforts to return to life before the pandemic. AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

DES MOINES, Iowa – Strong concern about a second wave of coronavirus infections is reinforcing widespread opposition among Americans to reopening public places, a new poll finds, even as many state leaders step up efforts to return to life before the pandemic.

Yet support for public health restrictions imposed to control the virus’s spread is no longer overwhelming. It has been eroded over the past month by a widening partisan divide, with Democrats more cautious and Republicans less anxious as President Donald Trump urges states to “open up our country,” according to the new survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The poll finds that 83% of Americans are at least somewhat concerned that lifting restrictions in their area will lead to additional infections, with 54% saying they are very or extremely concerned that such steps will result in a spike of COVID-19 cases.

“Oh, I’d like to get my hair and nails done. It’s one of those little pleasures you take for granted,” said Kathy Bishop, a 59-year-old billing specialist who had pneumonia two years ago. “But I’m just going to suck it up. It’s not worth the risk.”

Bishop lives in the western suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, a state where Republican Gov. Mike DeWine is among the state chief executives leading a gradual reopening of businesses such as salons, barbershops, restaurants and bars. But even after nine weeks spent at home, Bishop is among the solid majority of Americans who support rigorous criteria for economic reopening that goes beyond wearing masks in public places and continued social distancing.

About 8 in 10 Americans say that it's essential to reopening for people to return to self-quarantine if they are exposed to the virus. Roughly 6 in 10 also say having widespread testing for the coronavirus in their area is essential to reestablishing public activities, along with requiring people to keep 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart in most places and to wear face masks when they're near others outside their homes.

Nearly as telling as the public's appetite for rigorous precaution: Close to half say it is essential that a vaccine be available before public life resumes. A third say that's important but not essential.

Taken together, the findings suggest that while some Americans are anxious to get back to business as usual, most don’t see the country returning anytime soon to what once was considered normal. Instead, Americans largely envision a protracted period of physical distancing, covered faces and intermittent quarantines ahead, perhaps until a vaccine is available.