How knowledgeable is the general public about COVID-19?

April 2, 2020
Ben Schwartz

Ben Schwartz is Associate Editor, Contemporary OB/GYN.

As the world struggles to contain the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, important misconceptions among the general public in the United States and UK abound.

As the world struggles to contain the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, important misconceptions among the general public in the United States and UK abound. This particularly true in regards to preventing virus acquisition, according to a report in Annals of Internal Medicine in the form of a research letter.

Methods
The main objective of the study was to assess knowledge and perceptions about COVID-19 among a convenience sample of the general public in the United States and UK. The study was a cross-sectional survey conducted through an online platform. The platform selected a convenience sample of 3000 participants from the UK and 3000 participants from the United States. Participants were selected so that each nationality group had approximately the same distribution of age, sex, and ethnicity as their respective general populations. Participants must have been fluent in English and were compensated US $1.50 for participating. They were asked to respond to a 22-question survey on the virus, which included specific questions relating to falsehoods listed on the World Health Organization’s “myth busters” web site

Findings
In total, 2986 and 2988 adults residing in the United States and UK, respectively, completed the questionnaire. Although participants were generally well aware of the main mode of disease transmission and the common associated symptoms, responses indicated that knowledge on virus prevention was lacking. Also alarming is that a substantial portion or participants expressed intent to discriminate against people of East Asian ethnicity for fear of acquiring COVID-19.

 

Conclusions
The authors note that these findings could be used to direct public health information campaigns. They believe that it is important to emphasize the comparatively low case fatality rate, recommended care-seeking behaviors, the low risk posed by people of East Asian ethnicity, and that children appear to be at a lower risk of dying of the disease than adults. Furthermore, as resources continue to become stretched, it is important to educate the public on the effectiveness of common surgical masks versus frequent and thorough hand washing and social distancing.