Americans vastly overestimate the risk of hospitalization from COVID-19: Study

 | March 21, 2021 12:06 PM

Americans overestimate the likelihood a person with COVID-19 would have to be hospitalized by 10 times the actual number, a study shows.

People were asked during a Franklin Templeton/Gallup study what “percentage of people who have been infected by the coronavirus needed to be hospitalized.” Thirty-five percent of those asked said that over half of infected people would require hospitalization from the disease. Meanwhile, only 18% of Americans correctly stated that the risk of hospitalization was somewhere between 1%-5%.

“The U.S. public is also deeply misinformed about the severity of the virus for the average infected person,” the study’s authors said.

The numbers came at the same time a paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research found that U.S. media coverage of the virus skewed overwhelmingly negative when compared to the coverage in other countries, which likely contributed to the outsized fear Americans have about the threat the virus poses.


“Ninety one percent of stories by U.S. major media outlets are negative in tone versus fifty four percent for non-U.S. major sources and sixty five percent for scientific journals,” reads the working paper’s abstract. “The negativity of the U.S. major media is notable even in areas with positive scientific developments including school re-openings and vaccine trials. Media negativity is unresponsive to changing trends in new COVID-19 cases or the political leanings of the audience.”

Democrats were much more likely to overestimate the harms of COVID-19, according to the Franklin Templeton/Gallup study, with 41% believing over half of coronavirus patients would require hospitalizations, compared to 28% of Republicans.

Republicans were also more likely to identify the correct risk of hospitalization from the virus, with 26% answering between 1%-5% of patients would require hospitalizations, compared to only 10% of Democrats who believed the same.

“These errors in factual knowledge appear to have important real-world implications,” the study’s authors noted. “Those who overestimate risks to young people or hold an exaggerated sense of risk upon infection are more likely to favor closing schools, restaurants, and other businesses.”

To bring the public’s perception of the virus risks in line with reality, the authors stress the need for a more “well-informed public.”


“The most important lesson from our research is that a well-informed public, freed from both exaggerated fear and trivialization of a dangerous threat, is more likely to support optimal policies and engage in the behaviors needed to both maintain safety and avoid unnecessary economic damage,” the study concluded. “Tracking the public’s attitudes and behaviors on COVID-19 provides a tighter grasp of what to expect in a highly uncertain situation.”