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Why do some Americans feel pandemic fears are overblown?

President Trump is telling Americans not to be afraid of coronavirus, as the national death toll from the pandemic tops 210,000. Cases are again climbing in much of the country -- but attitudes about the threat posed by COVID-19 vary greatly. Amna Nawaz explores why so many Americans feel fears about the virus are overblown.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we have been reporting, the president is telling Americans not to be afraid of coronavirus, while the death toll in the U.S. tops 210,000.

    Cases are climbing again in much of the country. But attitudes about the threat vary greatly.

    Our Amna Nawaz explores why so many Americans think fears about the virus are overblown.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's become the story of two pandemics. Even as the virus surges in multiple states, hundreds of Americans die every day, and the U.S. leads the world in infections and deaths, millions of Americans don't see the virus as a threat.

    Why? To try to understand, we spoke today to Bruce Penuel…

  • Bruce Penuel:

    Things are different.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    … a 68-year-old retired police officer from Collegeville, Pennsylvania, and, in Chattanooga, to 57-year-old Pam O'Neill.

  • Pam O’Neill:

    I am a former nurse, and I'm from Tennessee.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Also to 41-year-old Addul Ali, a small business owner.

  • Addul Ali:

    I live in a little town called Kannapolis, North Carolina.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    All Republicans planning to vote for President Trump, none believe the virus is as bad as experts warn.

    We asked them all if they know anyone who's been sick or died from COVID.

  • Addul Ali:

    By the grace of God, I haven't had any family members to get sick because of COVID. I do have some friends that have had family members that have been sick.

  • Pam O’Neill:

    No, I do not know anyone who's had COVID or has passed away from COVID.

  • Bruce Penuel:

    I don't know personally of anyone who has died from it. I do believe the pandemic has been overblown, that we are taking too many cautions, and changing our lives too drastically.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We asked how much the pandemic impacts their day to day lives.

  • Bruce Penuel:

    I don't think my day-to-day life, being retired, has been affected greatly by it. Often, I'm outside, obviously, and I'm not wearing a mask outside, but I'm not afraid to talk to people. You know, I'm not hiding.

  • Addul Ali:

    From a business perspective, at the beginning, it was really tough, but now, as things just starting to open back up, we're recovering a little bit more.

  • Pam O’Neill:

    I do wear my mask when I go out, because it is mandated. I think there's a lot of good information for those who are going to look for it, to take a look at it, to let you know that this is survivable.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We asked how worried they are that they or someone in their community will get sick.

  • Bruce Penuel:

    We don't know a lot about it. So, I don't know exactly how I'm going to get it.

  • Addul Ali:

    Chances are, if you catch it, no, and you're in reasonably good health, that you will be OK. So, I haven't been worried about getting it.

  • Pam O’Neill:

    So, I feel very confident that since I don't have any preexisting, underlining health issues, that I would not only survive COVID, but I may be one of those lucky ones that might actually be asymptomatic.

  • Lee Miringoff:

    First of all, these are people who don't necessarily feel the immediacy of this.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Lee Miringoff is the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, home of the Marist poll.

    When you're talking about Americans who don't see the virus as a threat, who are you talking about?

  • Lee Miringoff:

    They are people who tend to be in more rural areas, where the virus has not been as much,– as pronounced.

    But they tend to be people who are part of the president's base. They tend to be male. They tend to be people who are not likely to have a college education. The folks who are supporting Trump, that group, that core group, are the ones who are most likely to follow him on this issue.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The partisan divide is clear in the latest "PBS NewsHour"/Marist/NPR poll, showing, while 76 percent of Republicans trust the president's pandemic message, only 5 percent of Democrats do.

    But Miringoff says, regardless of what they're experiencing now, Americans are mostly on the same page about what's ahead.

  • Lee Miringoff:

    A majority of Americans think that this is not going to end anytime soon, that there isn't a light at the end of the tunnel.

    So what we're seeing is a lot of people who think, we're in for the long haul, despite what the president says.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.

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