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Are Americans ready to ditch Covid restrictions? It's complicated

People want to get back to normal but worry about the consequences of doing so, a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds.
Americans remain torn over mask use.AGF / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Americans don't want to continue with masks and social distancing, but are largely fearful of what relaxing Covid-19 mitigation measures could mean for the near future, according to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation published Tuesday.

The survey of 1,502 U.S. adults was conducted Feb. 9-21. as a growing number of states and municipalities were announcing plans to lift Covid restrictions.

Full coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic

It was conducted before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that it was easing guidelines for mask mandates, however. That announcement, from Friday, means that 70 percent of Americans may now go without masks in indoor public settings.

The new survey findings illustrate the nation's desire to get back to normal, balanced with the ongoing worries of the virus’s potential impact on vulnerable populations, including the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

Of those surveyed, 61 percent agreed that lifting restrictions may endanger those most at risk for complications from the illness, and nearly half said they were concerned more deaths would follow.

But 65 percent said they worried that continued mask use and restrictions on group gatherings would have a harmful impact on the mental health of children and teenagers. And 63 percent were concerned about the impact of mitigation measures on businesses.

"Much of the public is sensibly both anxious and eager about returning to normal," Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said in a statement.

The root cause of the public's anxiety surrounding mitigation measures differed along party lines, the survey found.

Among Democrats, 82 percent worried that easing up too soon would be a detriment to the most vulnerable populations, lead to an increase in deaths and overwhelm hospital capacity. Less than a third of Republicans agreed that was a source of worry.

Nearly three-quarters of Republicans, compared to 56 percent of Democrats, said they were more concerned that continued restrictions would negatively impact youth. Those percentages remained roughly the same when it came to fears that mitigations were harming businesses.

Potential impact on children

Covid cases in children continue to decline nationwide, but remain relatively high, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported Monday.

Last week, 126,774 new pediatric Covid cases were reported. That's down substantially from a peak of more than 1.1 million during a single week in January.

As cases nationwide continue to fall, many school districts are lifting mask requirements for students and staff. The mandate in New York state schools is set to expire Wednesday.

But families largely disagree on how schools should move forward.

The Kaiser survey showed that 43 percent of parents said schools should continue to require masks, while 46 percent said schools shouldn't have any mask requirements at all.

The public remains divided on the issue of whether schools should require Covid vaccines for students and staff.

Just over half of parents in the survey said they were against such rules, while 46 percent said they were in favor of vaccine requirements in schools.

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