At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 40% of Americans were untruthful about whether they had the virus or were ignoring safety precautions, a nationwide survey shows.
The December survey of 1,700 people found 721 respondents had either misrepresented their COVID status or failed to follow public health recommendations.
Folks ignored quarantine rules, told someone they were about to see that they had been taking more precautions than they actually were, and didn't mention they might or did have COVID when they entered a doctor's office. They were also untruthful about vaccination status, claiming they were vaccinated when they weren't or that they were unvaccinated when they had taken the jab, the survey revealed.
The most common reasons for the lack of transparency were that people wanted to feel normal or to exercise personal freedom.
"COVID-19 safety measures can certainly be burdensome, but they work," said co-author Andrea Gurmankin Levy, a professor of social sciences at Middlesex Community College in Connecticut.
Co-author Angela Fagerlin, head of population health sciences at University of Utah Health, said the survey raises concerns about how reluctance to truthfully report health status and adherence to masking, social distancing and public health measures could lengthen the pandemic and spread infectious diseases.
"Some individuals may think if they fib about their COVID-19 status once or twice, it's not a big deal," Fagerlin said in a University of Utah news release. "But if, as our study suggests, nearly half of us are doing it, that's a significant problem that contributes to prolonging the pandemic."
Respondents gave a variety of reasons for their deception. Among them: They didn't think COVID was real or a big deal; they didn't feel sick; they couldn't miss work or stay home; they were following the advice of a public figure or celebrity; and finally, it was no one else's business.
"When people are dishonest about their COVID-19 status or what precautions they are taking, it can increase the spread of disease in their community," Levy said in the release. "For some people, particularly before we had COVID vaccines, that can mean death."
Those most likely to engage in misrepresentation included all age groups under 60 and those with a greater distrust of science. About 60% of respondents said they had sought a doctor's advice for COVID-19 prevention or treatment.
The study did not find an association between misrepresentation and political beliefs, party affiliation or religion.
Fagerlin said this survey asked about a broader range of behaviors compared to previous studies on this topic and included far more participants.
But the researchers said they could not determine if respondents answered honestly and the findings may underestimate how often people were dishonest about their health status.
"This study goes a long way toward showing us what concerns people have about the public health measures implemented in response to the pandemic and how likely they are to be honest in the face of a global crisis," said co-author Alistair Thorpe, a postdoctoral researcher at University of Utah Health. "Knowing that will help us better prepare for the next wave of worldwide illness."
The findings were published Oct. 10 in JAMA Network Open.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.
SOURCE: University of Utah Health, news release, Oct. 10, 2022