For the first time since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, a majority of Americans are choosing to go maskless in public, a new poll suggests, as many appear increasingly comfortable returning to pre-pandemic lifestyles.
Tuesday’s poll from the Associated Press and the National Opinion Research Center found just 44% of adult respondents still wear a mask often or always when in public—a significant decline from the 65% of adults who said they did in a January AP-NORC poll.
Fewer than half of Americans polled are avoiding non-essential travel and staying away from large groups, which is also a first since AP-NORC started tracking the issue in February 2021.
At that time, some 82% said they were always or often wearing a mask in public, and more than 75% were staying away from large groups.
The share of Americans taking precautions gradually declined last year as vaccinations became more widespread, but ticked back up a bit in late 2021 and early 2022 as the emergence of the omicron variant pushed Covid-19 cases to record highs.
The pollsters surveyed 1,082 U.S. adults between March 17-21.
Many Covid prevention restrictions throughout the U.S. have been lifted over the past few weeks, after a series of European countries chose to ease restrictions. Cities like New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., moved to lift both mask mandates and Covid vaccination requirements for activities like dining at restaurants, while the Biden Administration eased mask requirements in places like federal buildings and indoor spaces at national parks.
What To Watch For
The CDC announced Tuesday the highly transmissible BA.2 omicron variant of coronavirus is now the dominant cause of Covid-19 in the U.S., but leading health figures like National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci say it’s unlikely the country will face another large surge in cases.
One part of life that isn’t returning to pre-pandemic norms for American office workers is the commute. A Pew Research Center poll published last month found most people working jobs that could be done remotely were staying remote, but not because of Covid concerns. More than 60% of respondents said they were still working remotely because they chose to do so, with only 38% saying it was due to a physical workplace closure.
Airplanes, airports and public transportation are among the last places where the public is still required to mask up, due to a federal mandate. On Tuesday, the Republican attorneys general of 21 states filed a lawsuit against the Biden Administration in an effort to end the mandate.
Americans ease up on masks, virus safeguards: AP-NORC poll (Associated Press)