Two-thirds of Americans say the novel coronavirus poses a "real threat" and has not been "blown out of proportion."
And, though the majority of Americans are concerned about the potential spread of the virus within the U.S., 61% also say U.S. government officials are doing enough to prevent it.
The findings come from a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Tuesday. "Right now, people are worried and watchful," says Lee Miringoff, Director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. Despite the global threat, "a majority of Americans don't see this as something that is necessarily going to strike here," Miringoff says. And only 1% say they've changed their travel plans due to the novel virus.
"People are concerned overall, but not necessarily about their community," Miringoff says. And, so far, the only people who have been diagnosed in the U.S. have either been to the region in China where the virus was first detected, or have been in close contact with people who have returned from China.
The poll finds that Americans aged 45 or older are much more likely to be concerned about the spread of the virus to their communities compared to younger Americans.
"Some people are more concerned than they should be," says poll respondent Karen Montoya, 77, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona. She's heard a lot about the novel virus on the evening news, she told NPR in a phone interview. And she does share some of the concern. "The very old and the very ill, they're the ones that are going to suffer the most" if the virus were to spread here, she says.
The average age of the first cases reported in China was about 60 years old.
For now, she thinks people should focus on common sense prevention. "Make sure that if your friends are not feeling well, you ask them not to go anywhere," Montoya says. "It's just the same thing you do for the regular flu," she says.
Despite the finding that more than 6 in 10 Americans say U.S. officials are doing enough to prevent the spread, respondents may not have heard all of the announcements late last week on quarantines and travel restrictions that will limit travel from China to the U.S. for people who are not U.S. citizens.
"I think it's a great idea to keep the public safe," says poll respondent Fausto Fernandez, 37, who lives in Waltham, Massachusetts. At the same time, Fernandez, who is originally from the Dominican Republic, says he's somewhat concerned that officials could use the virus as an excuse to stop people from other countries from coming into the U.S.