Hospitalizations have now hit their lowest point since the beginning of the pandemic, and many Americans are forgoing pandemic precautions. However, experts warn that "we're not done with this yet," particularly as America faces a potential new surge.
More Americans are dropping Covid-19 precautions
In a new poll, the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research conducted online and telephone interviews with 1,082 U.S. adults between March 17 and March 21.
Overall, only 25% of Americans said they are extremely or very worried about themselves or a family member being infected by the coronavirus—down from 36% who said the same in January during the omicron wave. In comparison, 43% said they were not at all or not too worried about Covid-19.
Many Americans are also now taking fewer pandemic precautions than before. Less than 50% of respondents said they always or often avoid nonessential travel, stay away from large groups, and wear a face mask outside of their homes, and just another third said they avoid other people as much as possible.
In addition, vaccinated Americans, as well as older adults, continue to be more likely to take precautions, such as mask wearing or avoiding nonessential travel, than unvaccinated Americans or younger adults. However, relatively few people in any of the groups are avoiding other people as much as possible.
Health experts remain cautious against potential new variants
However, even as Americans reduce their pandemic precautions, many health experts remained concerned about potential new surges and variants.
The omicron subvariant BA.2, also known as "stealth omicron," is around 30% more transmissible than the original omicron variant and is driving a new surge in cases across Europe and in parts of Asia. In addition, the subvariant is now the dominant variant in the United States, making up approximately 55% of all cases in the country as of March 27, according to CDC data.
So far, health experts do not believe the subvariant will cause a massive surge in the cases like the delta and omicron variants—but the United States may not have the resources to combat even a smaller surge.
Earlier this month, Congress was slated to pass $15.6 billion in Covid-19 funding as part of a larger $1.5 trillion omnibus bill, but the funding was cut at the last minute. Without additional funding, significant cutbacks are being made to Covid-19 response programs, including new orders of treatments and vaccines.
"We're all talking about preparedness for the future, but we're not done with this yet," said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. "We're about to hit a whole bunch of program cliffs and funding cliffs."
Experts have also voiced concerns about the potential for new, more dangerous variants to emerge and their impact on the United States, particularly as pandemic funds dwindle.
"If a new variant were to hit two months from now in the middle of the summer, we would not be ready in any shape or form financially," said Paul Lee, a senior partner and founder of the consulting firm Strategic Health Care.
"I'm not that concerned about this [omicron subvariant], because it's very similar to the other one," said Carlos del Rio, a physician and professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine. "I'm more concerned about what else can emerge."
Currently, lawmakers are working on another Covid-19 funding package, but Republicans and Democrats are divided on whether offsets for the funds should come from existing Covid-19 funds or other sources, Roll Call reports.
"The sooner we have these in place when—God forbid—a new variant hits, the healthier we'll stay, the more life will stay normal," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). "To deny it now and then three months from now, or six months from now—or whenever—be unprepared and let [COVID-19] spread unchecked, until the COVID variant's tentacles are too deep in our society, makes no sense whatsoever." (AP-NORC poll, 3/29; Choi, The Hill, 3/29; AP/Modern Healthcare, 3/29; Cohen et al., Roll Call, 3/30)