A majority of Utahns believe that life will have returned to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic by this winter at the latest — and nearly a third see it happening even sooner.

A new poll for the Deseret News and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics in Salt Lake City found 6% of Utahns say it should be just one to two more months before they can put the deadly virus behind them, while the most Utahns, 25%, are counting on that taking another three to six months, and 21%, until winter.

But 36% of Utahns who say it is going to take a year or more before they bounce back from a pandemic that struck more than a year ago, including 18% who say it will be several years. Another 13% told pollsters they aren’t sure when that day will come.

“I think normal has changed,” said James Thorpe, 54, a longtime machinist in Roy who’s looking for a desk job as he battles prostate cancer. “Things will loosen up a little bit at a time, but as far as going back to the way it was before, I think it’ll be at least a year.”

Until recently, Thorpe said he expected Utah to make a speedier recovery.

“I thought it would be faster than that, but once I started seeing all the paranoia people are having about the vaccines — I don’t get that,” he said. Thorpe said he and his wife, who also has health issues, both got the shots as soon as they were available but still take precautions to avoid the virus.

Currently, only about a third of Utahns are also fully vaccinated against COVID-19. With many sites for shots now experiencing significant slowdowns, the state is focusing on finding ways to attract Utahns who are hesitant to be vaccinated.

Hesitancy about vaccines may keep Utah from reaching herd immunity

Thorpe said more vaccinations would make a difference in the timeline he sees for getting back to normal.

“There’s risks. But there’s a lot more benefit to it than downside. People need to be thinking broader. They need to be thinking about more than just themselves,” he said. Some members of his extended family have been reluctant to be vaccinated, Thorpe said, and that “just means, unfortunately, we don’t spend time around them.”

Todd Kunz, 59, a semiretired auto mechanic and office manager who lives in Leeds, Washington County, thinks it will take several years before Utah is back to a place “where people aren’t in fear of communicating with each other or you can go into a business and have a friendly interaction,” his definition of normal life.

Kunz said he has heart issues and a son with sickle cell anemia, but won’t get vaccinated against COVID-19 because of side effects he suffered years ago from a flu shot. He said he doesn’t believe the St. George area was as affected by the coronavirus as other places.

“I’ll just flat out tell you this has been blown out of proportion in this particular area,” Kunz said. “I can definitely tell you here it has been way overkilled. Not to mention this is a tourist town.”

He said most people aren’t wearing masks in public, “something that should have happened a long time ago.”

But despite his attitude, Kunz said he fears the life he knew will never really return.

“I don’t think it’s ever going to. Never. We’re under permanent changes as a result of this. So things are not ever going to be the same,” he said. “Will they get better? Absolutely, for sure. Are they getting better here? Yeah, they’re already getting better.”

The latest poll results do reflect some of the optimism about a recovery by fall that surfaced a month ago, although the number of Utahns who say it will take a year or longer to get back to normal has gone up since the last poll, from just over a quarter of respondents to the 36%.

Why does poll show ‘dramatic’ surge in optimism among Utahns about COVID-19?

The latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll was conducted April 30-May 6 of 1,000 registered Utah voters by independent pollster Scott Rasmussen. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Rasmussen, who is based in Florida, said the increase in the number of Utahns who believe they’ll have to wait a year or more for normalcy shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“From the very beginning, response to this pandemic has been up and down. It’s a roller coaster. That’s true of every aspect of it,” the pollster said. Reasons likely include changing definitions of what normal looks like as well as the fact that many public health precautions are continuing.

“People had this thought a few months ago that, ‘Boy, once the vaccine is here we’re going to get vaccinated and everything is going to be normal right away.’ And then people have been getting vaccinated, but they’re still going out and still seeing everybody doing social distancing and still seeing people wearing masks,” Rasmussen said.

As a result, he said, people are “going to be a little bit cautious moving out of this phase.”

With end of pandemic near, governor calls for ‘kindness, humanity, grace’ when facing remaining restrictions

Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, described Utahns as feeling “cautious optimism” about the future.

“What we have seen throughout this pandemic is you cannot take anything for granted,” Perry said. “There just have been no certainties throughout this pandemic. People are hopeful, and they’re hopeful and they’re watching closely. That is the key takeaway.”

Utahns are keeping tabs on declining case counts, hospitalizations and deaths as well as increasing vaccinations, especially now that 12- to -15-year-olds can get the shots, he said. They’re also looking to leaders in the state to signal when it’s safe to stop wearing masks and taking other precautions against the virus.

“As our elected officials and others start modeling normal behavior over the next couple of months, Utahns are ready without question to get back to normal,” Perry said. “But they are looking at what’s happened over the past 12 to 14 months, and they’re being cautious about it.”