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Most people have not yet fully returned to their pre-pandemic life, poll finds

<i>Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>People eat in the outdoor dining area of a restaurant on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach
AFP via Getty Images
Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images
People eat in the outdoor dining area of a restaurant on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach

By Ariel Edwards-Levy, CNN

Most Americans say the way they conduct their lives is still affected to some extent by the pandemic, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Wednesday, though fewer say their activities remain dramatically curtailed. A majority also favor continued masking in some public places, and say they’ve continued to wear masks in some, though not necessarily all, situations when they’re indoors and in public.

The results — and the marked partisan and demographic splits that characterize them — highlight the nuances and fault lines that mark Americans’ response to Covid-19 more than two years after the start of the pandemic.

A plurality of US adults (42%) say that they’re now doing some but not all of the activities they did pre-pandemic, with 27% saying that they have “basically returned to normal,” and 14% saying that the pandemic never affected their activity level in the first place. Another 17% are still doing very few of the activities they did prior to the pandemic.

Significant shares of the country also continue to favor some level of masking as a Covid mitigation measure: A 59% majority say that “people should continue to wear masks in some public places to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and avoid another surge in cases.” Fewer, 48%, say the federal government should extend the requirement for people to wear masks on airplanes, trains and other public transportation. And 51% say that they, personally, wore a mask most or all of the time they were indoors in public places during the past month, with about 8 in 10 saying they wore a mask at least sometimes.

Democrats are 55 percentage points likelier than Republicans to say people should continue to wear masks in some public places; that divide is 39 points between Black and White Americans, 38 points between those vaccinated for Covid-19 and those who are not, and 14 points between Americans in households making less than $40,000 annually and those in households making $90,000 or more. People with a chronic condition that puts them at higher risk for Covid-19 are a comparably modest 9 points likelier than those without to favor continued masking in some situations. Similar divides show up in Americans’ own self-reported behavior.

“Larger shares of Democrats and vaccinated adults report they’ve been wearing masks and want others to continue doing so, while most Republicans and unvaccinated adults are eager to return to normal and lift mask mandates.Compared to their counterparts, Black adults, Hispanic adults, and those with lower incomes are less likely to say they’ve returned to normal, more likely to say they’re wearing masks frequently, and much more likely to say people should continue to wear masks to minimize the spread of the virus and prevent another surge,” the KFF report notes. “With Black and Hispanic adults and those with lower-incomes more likely to work in jobs that are highly impacted by COVID-19, the survey finds that they’re more likely to show concerns over reopening and unmasking measures.”

Those divides were also present in how Americans were affected by the pandemic. Americans in lower-income households were more likely than those in higher-earning ones to report negative impacts from the pandemic on everything from their finances and employment to their mental and physical health. Younger adults also reported feeling disproportionate negative effects, particularly on their mental health: 67% of those ages 18-29 say the pandemic took a toll on their mental health, compared with 54% of those ages 30-49, and less than 4 in 10 of those ages 50 and older.

When Americans were asked to share, in their own words, which pandemic-era changes they’d found most difficult, 27% mentioned isolation or not seeing people, compared with 13% who had the hardest time with being unable to do things or travel, and another 13% who said their challenges had been mainly financial. Smaller shares mentioned avoiding Covid-19 itself (6%), dealing with employment changes or job loss (5%), having to wear a mask (4%), struggling with mental health (4%), coping with the impact to kids and their schooling (3%), or losing family members or loved ones (3%).

That also applied when they were asked for any positive repercussions of what they’d faced in the past two years. Nearly one-quarter mentioned increased time with their family — far outpacing the shares who mentioned work, finances, or other changes.

“It helped cherish the moments you have with each other and to be less wasteful,” responded one woman, a 39-year-old from Tennessee. “Realize that habits/behaviors can change all the time; make the best changes.”

The Kaiser Family Foundation Covid-19 Vaccine Monitor surveyed 1,243 US adults on March 15-22, using a combination of live telephone interviews and online interviews to reach a nationally representative sample. The results have a margin of sampling error of +/- 4 percentage points for the full sample.

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