A new survey suggests the population most vulnerable to COVID-19 is also the group that’s least worried and also least informed: senior citizens.
According to the survey, conducted by The Harris Poll, only 47% of U.S. adults over the age of 60 are worried about dying from the novel coronavirus despite being the most at risk. That lack of worry is a stark contrast to the actual statistics of COVID-19 patients, where health officials say patients over 80 have a fatality rate of 15% compared to the average overall case fatality rate of 2.3%. (For comparison, 57% of millennials surveyed also fear dying from the virus.)
Seniors don’t only think they’re not at risk of dying, but also believe they’re not likely to catch COVID-19 at all. According to the nationally representative survey of 2,000 adults conducted between March 5 and March 9, 77% of adults over the age of 65 think they’re “unlikely” to catch the coronavirus based on their daily habits compared to 67% of millennials.
The survey was conducted before President Donald Trump on Wednesday addressed the nation emphasizing the seriousness of the virus after previously downplaying it. However, the results show more needs to be done to inform the elderly about the pandemic and what they should do to protect themselves and others. According to The Harris Poll CEO John Gerzema, the data collected last week and this week should “give us pause.”
“We have to really think about this as a public health issue for this audience,” Gerzema said in an interview with Forbes on Thursday night. “Not unlike we talk to teens about vaping. Not only do you have seniors that are most at risk, given that we don’t know how this disease is spreading, they sort of could be the potential epicenter for this virus in America.”
Another alarming statistic: 25% of adults over 65 admitted they’re not very knowledgeable about the virus, according to The Harris Poll. Meanwhile, only 13% of seniors have talked with a medical professional about their risk of contracting the COVID-19, compared to 21% of millennials.
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, older adults and people with chronic medical conditions are at higher risk of serious illness from the coronavirus. Almost all of the people in the U.S. that have died from COVID-19 have been in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, according to the CDC. Many elderly people also live in communities where diseases spread quickly such as nursing homes.
That’s already been the case in Kirkland, Washington. Residents in nearly a dozen facilities around Seattle have also tested positive for COVID-19, and many of the 31 people who have died in the state were associated with one of long-term care centers. (After a nursing home resident tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this week, another resident seen outside suggested the virus wasn’t there and said the restrictions on them were “overblown,” The Washington Post reported on Thursday.)
With more than 125,000 global coronavirus cases reported by the World Health Organization, so far there have been at least 1,200 cases in the U.S. across at least 42 states, according to the CDC. Only 36 people have died in the U.S., but the global loss of life has surpassed 4,600.
The cancellations of major events in cities across the country have shown the severity of the crisis, but The Harris Poll’s findings suggest seniors don’t necessarily plan to implement “social distancing.” The results showed 81% of older Americans are still willing to attend family social gathering—compared with 71% of millennials—and only 11% of seniors have opted out of group activities.
Gerzema said many studies point out the risky behaviors of teens, but seniors have plenty of far more harmless pastimes that could be quite dangerous when it comes to COVID-19: cruise ships, Bingo parties, and time with grandchildren.
“What grandma is not a hugger, right?” he said. “The rest of us are doing our elbows and they’re not so we’re quite really concerned about that.”
The Harris Poll survey also sheds light on the overall sentiment of Americans when it comes to COVID-19. While 61% feel “the media” is overhyping the outbreak, 71% said they’re concerned with the government’s ability to effectively respond and 58% think politicians are downplaying the risk. However, just 44% are willing to attend sporting events and just 42% plan to frequent bars or gyms, but 80% are fine with visiting the grocery store or pharmacy. And when it comes to work, 83% said they’re still willing to go despite their wariness about other parts of life, and 53% said they’re still willing to go to schools despite the outbreak.
Older adults and millennials plan to continue or pause daily routines differently. While 91% of seniors plan to still go to the grocery store and 76% plan to visit restaurants, only 77% of millennials plan to continue shopping and just 68% say they’ll continue to dine out. Public transportation is also a differentiating factor, with 20% of seniors avoiding mass transit compared with 35% of millennials.
“The confidence and defiance is really remarkable to us,” Gerzema said.
Read more at Forbes.