Nearly three-quarters of Utahns aren’t concerned about contracting COVID-19 now that state officials are treating the virus more like the flu, according to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll, but they’re still split over how long it’s going to take for life to get back to normal.
More than two years into the pandemic, 22% of Utahns say their lives are back to normal now. But for 43%, it’s going to take a year or longer to return to normalcy, and for another 22%, it will be between one to 11 months before that happens. The rest, 12%, just don’t know.
Utahns, however, were much more decisive when it comes to whether they’re worried about catching COVID-19.
Just 26% are concerned about coming down with the virus, compared to a whopping 74% who aren’t. Only 8% say they are very concerned, while 40% are “not at all concerned” about becoming infected. No one polled was unsure about how they feel.
The poll was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates for the Deseret News and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics April 5-12 of 804 registered voters in Utah. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.
Hinckley Institute Director Jason Perry said Utahns are still well aware of COVID-19.
“I don’t have the sense from this poll that no one cares anymore about the virus. I think people are just reacting to the realities of the virus in the state of Utah right now,” Perry said, “Utahns, I think, are paying close attention. That’s why we don’t have any ‘don’t knows,’” on the question about concerns over getting sick.
“If something happens with the virus, and the numbers start to go up dramatically, I have no doubt based on our history of polling that concern will go up in a corresponding way,” he said, including a previous poll that showed more than half of all Utahns feared the omicron variant of the virus that struck the state earlier this year.
Since that surge, Gov. Spencer Cox has moved to a “steady state” COVID-19 response that shifted most testing and treatments for the virus to private providers. The Utah Department of Health continues to monitor COVID-19’s spread, particularly through wastewater surveillance, but is updating the public weekly instead of daily.
COVID-19 case counts are low in Utah but are expected by some experts to rise this week due to both Easter gatherings as well as the spread of so-called “stealth omicron” and other subvariants that are responsible for surges in New York and other parts of the East Coast.
The poll found that slightly more Utahns now think it will take a year or more for life in the state to get back to normal, even though the number who say that’s already happened went up five percentage points in the last month.
“That’s the reality check in the poll,” Perry said.
“There’s a steady percentage of Utahns who believe that we’ll be talking about COVID for a pretty long time. That has not changed,” he said, adding that while residents may be more than ready to get back to normal, they understand the virus hasn’t gone away.
Glen Martinsen, a Hill Air Force Base civilian contractor from Layton, is ready to be done with COVID-19.
“I think it should go back to normal six months ago,” Martinsen said. For him, life is already back to what it was, other than he’s still working from home.
Martinsen said he caught the virus twice, once early on in the pandemic and again after he was vaccinated. Both times it felt like a bad flu, so he said he’s decided not to get booster shots, even though at 58, he’s eligible for two additional doses.
“I figured it was a waste of time,” he said. “It seems like if you’re going to catch it, you’re going to catch it. I know people who double-masked and triple-vaccinated and still got it. It just seems like it’s going to do what it’s going to do. I track the numbers pretty closely and have since the beginning ... now it’s down to where it is just a flu.”
Han Kim, a professor of public health at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, said it makes sense that Utahns are looking at COVID-19 now the same way they do the flu, a disease that remains deadly but has more limited outbreaks.
Kim, who said he’s not masking up much these days, nor are most students and faculty on campus, described himself as “probably slightly concerned” about being infected. But rather than going back to the way life was before the pandemic, he said he’d like to see a “new normal.”
That means, Kim said, that wearing masks during an outbreak becomes “an acceptable social norm,” along with staying home when sick. And finding middle ground, he said, between being “completely anxious about impending doom” and forgetting about the virus entirely.
“This isn’t like an on and off switch, either. We can still have some vigilance, but maybe not try to freak people out so much,” the professor said. “Just say, ‘Hey, be a little bit careful.’ But stop screaming that, ‘Oh, my god, there’s another surge coming. We’re going to have to shut down again.’ Stop. That’s causing more damage.”