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New Survey Provides Insights about the Public’s Understanding of and Perceptions about COVID-19

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Results published Friday from a survey conducted by researchers at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, offer insight into the general awareness and knowledge about the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and related disease COVID-19 among the U.S. population.

“We conducted this research to provide data about the public’s understanding of COVID-19 to guide what information should be provided to help citizens and public health officials make informed decisions,” said Lauren McCormack, PhD, MSPH, Division Vice President for Public Health Research at RTI.

While 86 percent of respondents had seen, read or heard either a fair amount or a great deal about the coronavirus, overall survey results showed there were deficits in respondents’ knowledge.

For instance, one-third of respondents incorrectly believed that most people infected with the coronavirus will die from it and 59 percent knew that most people who are infected will recover from it.

Survey results also identified gaps in knowledge around the use of antibiotics for the coronavirus, with 46 percent knowing that antibiotics cannot be used to treat the virus and 57 percent knowing antibiotics cannot prevent infection.

“These knowledge deficits are opportunities for public health education,” said Linda Squiers, PhD, a Senior Health Communication Scientist at RTI.

The survey included questions about the extent to which respondents would support community mitigation strategies to control the spread of the virus.

Of respondents, 89 percent said they would support a U.S. government-imposed mandatory quarantine for those who are infected with the coronavirus and voluntary home quarantine for up to two weeks for people who have been in contact with someone who has the coronavirus.

Most respondents indicated they would support closures of K-12 schools for up to two weeks if any student, staff member or teacher had the virus (83 percent) and the postponement or cancellation of mass gatherings such as concerts, festivals or sporting events (74 percent).

Support for closing workplaces and businesses temporarily was not as strong as other measures, with 58 percent of respondents indicating they would support this strategy.

“This is a rapidly evolving public health situation, and we expect the public’s understanding will change over time. It will be important to continue to monitor people’s understanding of risk, transmission and ways to protect themselves and the vulnerable people in their communities,” said Pia MacDonald, PhD, MPH, an infectious disease epidemiologist and Senior Director of Applied Public Health Research at RTI.

The survey was conducted Feb. 28-March 2 and consisted of a sample of 1,021 U.S. respondents weighted to represent the U.S. population. It was internally funded.

To read more about the survey, visit: www.rti.org/coronavirus-united-states-survey.