As the CDC shifts masking guidance, Americans are split on path forward

At this stage of the pandemic, opinions on masking and other restrictions aimed to minimize the spread are mixed — with a split largely down party lines.

Overall in the US, more than 60% of adults say they are concerned about the consequences of lifting restrictions and keeping them in place. But Democrats are far more likely to say they are concerned about the negative effects of lifting restrictions, while Republicans were more likely to be concerned about the negative effects of keeping restrictions in place.

More than 80% of Democrats said they were at least “somewhat” worried that immunocompromised people will be left behind if the government lifts masking restrictions, compared with 30% of Republicans. Democrats were also about three times more likely than Republicans to say that lifting restrictions could lead to more deaths in their community or cause hospitals to become overwhelmed.

About three-quarters of Republicans, meanwhile, said they worry that local businesses would suffer due to loss of revenue, compared with 50% of Democrats.

A majority of both Democrats (56%) and Republicans (73%) said they are worried that the mental health of kids and teenagers will suffer if restrictions are kept in place.

Red and blue states alike have started to lift mask mandates and roll back other pandemic-related restrictions such as vaccination requirements.

But on Friday — just a few days after KFF completed its latest survey — the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shifted the metrics used to drive local masking guidance, dropping the recommendation to mask indoors from 99% of people in the US to less than 30%.

The new CDC recommendations also apply to schools.

Support for masks in schools has fallen since the start of the school year, and parents are now split on the issue, according to the KFF survey.

In September, more than 60% of parents favored some level of masking requirements in school. Now, 43% say masks should be required for all students and staff, 46% say there should be no requirement at all, and 9% say masks should be required only for the unvaccinated in schools.

The partisan divide is clear, with two-thirds of Democrats in support of universal masking requirements in schools and more than three-quarters of Republicans in favor of removing mask requirements completely in schools.

And as masking guidance shifts, vaccinations stagnate.

The KFF survey was fielded right as the US Food and Drug Administration postponed making a decision on whether to authorize a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for emergency use among children ages 6 months through 4 years.

Nearly 40% of parents of children younger than 5 said that communication from federal health agencies about vaccines for this age group has been confusing. Most say they don’t have enough information about their safety and effectiveness, and more than two-thirds say they are not confident that Covid-19 vaccines are safe for young children.

Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine effectiveness fell quickly for kids during Omicron surge but still offered some protection against severe disease

Only about 1 in 5 parents of children younger than 5 says they plan to get their child vaccinated right away once they are eligible, according to the KFF survey.

About a third of children ages 5 to 11 are already vaccinated. But parents of another third of kids in this age group say that they will “definitely not” get their child vaccinated.

On Monday, new data from the New York State Department of Health showed that vaccine effectiveness waned quickly during the Omicron surge, especially among children ages 5 to 11, but was still protective against severe disease.

The authors of the preprint study concluded that if other studies repeat these findings, the vaccine dose for younger children may need to be reviewed. The authors also said the data may demonstrate a need to continue “layered protections, including mask wearing, to prevent infection and transmission” in younger children.

The KFF survey found that vaccination rates are higher for older children, with about 57% of children ages 12 to 17 vaccinated. But parents of another 30% say they will “definitely not” get their adolescent vaccinated.

Overall, vaccination rates among adults have remained largely unchanged, with only about half receiving a booster shot.

Yet more than a third of adults say it’s safe to return to pre-pandemic activities.

This is especially true among Republicans (65%) and unvaccinated adults (60%), but it’s far less common among Democrats (11%) and vaccinated adults (26%). Only a quarter of adults say it will be at least another year before it will be safe to return to normal.

The vast majority of those surveyed said “normal” life will be different going forward, including continued mask wearing, continued precautions, changes to the way we work and social distancing.

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