A new study finds that nearly half of U.S. adults did not comply with public health restrictions or misrepresented their exposure status during COVID-19 quarantines.
Published Monday in JAMA Network Open, the national survey study found that 41.6% of 1,733 adult participants said they defied guidelines or misrepresented themselves in at least one of nine areas.
The study found the most common form of defiance was the participants “telling someone they were with or about to be with in person that they were taking more COVID-19 preventive measures than they actually were” (24.3%). The second most common was breaking quarantine rules (22.5%).
The most commonly cited reason was “wanting life to feel normal and wanting to exercise personal freedom,” the study’s 10 researchers wrote.
Lead researcher Andrea G. Levy, a psychology professor at Middlesex Community College in Middletown, Connecticut, said the study confirms the “fairly common” dishonesty of Americans about following guidelines during an outbreak.
“And we can understand that because these measures have been tremendously burdensome,” Ms. Levy said in an email. “But they work, and being dishonest about them or not following them undermines their effectiveness in preventing disease spread.”
Ms. Levy said the study provides “insight into why people are doing this” as a basis to improve public education, access to testing and financial safety nets during future outbreaks.
Conducted Dec. 8-23, 2021, via an online panel, the study screened participants to get a representative breakdown of adults.
One-third of the participants had had COVID-19, and one-third had not had COVID-19 and were vaccinated. The remaining one-third had not had COVID-19 and were unvaccinated.
According to the study, Americans younger than 60 and those with more distrust of science “had significantly higher odds” of defying public health guidance during the pandemic.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the study shows that certain policies “engender people to be dishonest about their actions, leading to increased risk.”
“Much of the COVID-related guidance was highly disruptive to individuals’ pursuits and, therefore, hard to follow,” said Dr. Adalja, an infectious disease specialist. “This, coupled with social and political pressures to be seen as compliant, likely led to people misrepresenting their COVID precaution level.”