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Data: Axios/Ipsos survey; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans are deeply worried about new strains of the coronavirus — prompting some to double-mask and many to temper expectations about life getting back to normal — according to the latest installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

The big picture: Fears have eased substantially around sending children back to school, our national survey found. But there's growing anxiety about the virus changing and the implications for the nation's health, economy and society.

  • 83% of Americans say they're concerned about new strains that may be more transmissible — with about one-third of that group saying they're "extremely" concerned.
  • Only 26% expect life to return to pre-COVID normal in the next six months; 30% predict it will be more than a year; and 8% say "never."

Why it matters: The findings suggest that Americans across partisan lines are increasingly attuned to the science around the virus — and that they don't expect vaccines or the new administration under President Biden to bring instant fixes.

  • Six in 10 say they have watched or read news coverage about vaccinations in their community.

What they're saying: "I’m reading this as, 'What is Biden’s window to get this under control?'" said pollster Chris Jackson, senior vice president for Ipsos Public Affairs.

  • Jackson said he'd expected to find three-to-six-month windows of patience, but that Americans seem to be prepared for a longer slog. "At least at the moment, people aren’t really expecting it to get under control until six months to a year from now."

What we're watching: Since late August — the last time we asked this question — Americans have grown more comfortable with the idea of schools re-opening in their communities.

  • 59% saying they have some level of concern, down from 74%, and only one-third now feel extremely or very concerned, down from half.
  • There are still big partisan differences, with Democrats about twice as worried as Republicans.

By the numbers: A small but significant share of Americans — 15% — who skew older and Democratic say they're wearing two masks at once, either sometimes or all of the time, when they leave home.

  • When it comes to life returning to pre-COVID "normal," Republicans are the most likely by far to expect it within six months. But optimists are a minority even in the GOP: 84% of Democrats, 73% of independents and 63% of Republicans say a return to normal will take longer.
  • Concerns about new strains of coronavirus are far more bipartisan: 95% of Democrats, 82% of independents and 71% of Republicans.

Methodology: This Axios/Ipsos Poll was conducted Jan. 29-Feb. 1 by Ipsos' KnowledgePanel®. This poll is based on a nationally representative probability sample of 1,038 general population adults age 18 or older.

  • The margin of sampling error is ±3.3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample of adults.

Go deeper

Feb 1, 2021 - Health

Chilling trend: A longer, deadlier pandemic

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Mutated versions of the coronavirus threaten to prolong the pandemic, perhaps for years — killing more people and deepening the global economic crisis in the process.

The big picture: The U.S. and the world are in a race to control the virus before these variants can gain a bigger foothold. But many experts say they already expect things to get worse before they get better. And that also means an end to the pandemic may be getting further away.

10 Senate Republicans propose compromise on COVID relief package

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A group of 10 Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), sent a letter to President Biden Sunday requesting a meeting, saying they have developed a counterproposal to the president's COVID-19 relief plan.

The big picture: The proposal includes $160 billion in spending for vaccines, testing and tracing, treatment and medical equipment. The senators said the plan "could be approved quickly by Congress with bipartisan support," if it gained Biden's support.