Four out of five vaccinated Americans say they will still wear a mask inside public places after the emergence of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, but a notably smaller percentage of people who are not vaccinated — just 63% — would do so, according to a new survey from STAT and The Harris Poll.
Meanwhile, 38% of those who are vaccinated would attend an indoor event, such as a concert or sporting event, despite the variant, compared with 46% of unvaccinated people. But similar portions of the population – 73% of those vaccinated and 76% of the unvaccinated — say they would attend an in-person holiday event with friends and family.
The Omicron variant is not dissuading Americans from traveling, either, according to the poll, which surveyed 1,997 Americans between Dec. 10 and Dec. 12. Regardless of vaccination status, approximately one-third said they would travel on a plane for the upcoming holidays, and nearly as many said they would fly internationally early next year. And nearly equal numbers of vaccinated and unvaccinated people – 71% and 72%, respectively – would dine indoors at a restaurant.
The varying reactions reflect ongoing frustration with restrictions posed by the Covid-19 pandemic since it took hold nearly two years ago. But the fatigue has been exacerbated more recently by the Omicron variant and by uncertainty about its impact.
There is some evidence that people who have been fully vaccinated or previously had Covid-19 are susceptible to infection from the Omicron variant, but clinical data about its severity is limited, according to the World Health Organization. Although Omicron appears to be more contagious than previous variants based on early data, it is not yet clear whether the strain causes more mild or severe cases of Covid-19.
The new variant accounted for 2.9% of sequenced Covid-19 cases in the United States in the week ending Dec. 11 — compared to 0% of cases from Omicron the week prior, according to data released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So far, almost 73% of the U.S. population, or more than 239 million people, has received at least one Covid-19 shot. And 61% — or approximately 201 million people — are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data. Nearly 17% of Americans have also received a booster shot. By comparison, nearly 47% of the global population is fully vaccinated.
The Biden administration, meanwhile, has pushed for mask mandates for public transportation and on federal property, while also requiring vaccinations for federal employees and urging the private sector to encourage vaccination. But the results have been decidedly mixed thanks to ongoing pushback from a segment of Americans, including some lawmakers at all levels of government.
Not surprisingly, the Omicron variant is prompting different reactions from Democrats and Republicans. For instance, 91% of Democrats surveyed would wear a mask when inside public places, compared with 63% of Republicans. And more Republicans than Democrats would dine indoors at a restaurant (79% versus 71%) or attend an in-person holiday gathering with family and friends (81% versus 73%).
Nonetheless, the survey did find some similarities. Just under half of both Republicans and Democrats said they would attend an in-person holiday event for work. And 44% of Republicans and 40% of Democrats would attend an indoor event with a large crowd, such as a concert or sports event. And roughly one-third of each group would fly on a plane for the holidays.
The national picture is further muddied, though, as some employers ease vaccine mandates due to concerns over labor shortages. A key example involves hospitals, including HCA Healthcare, Tenet Healthcare, Advent Health and Cleveland Clinic. Vaccine mandates have been a factor constraining the supply of health care workers, according to hospital executives, public health authorities, and nursing groups.
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