A new US study has revealed some of the reasons why people have failed to maintain social distancing guidelines during the current COVID-19 outbreak to prevent its spread.
Carried out by researchers at Stanford University, the new study surveyed 20,734 people using questionnaires posted on Twitter and Facebook, as well as the neighborhood social networking service NextDoor.
The survey answers were collected between March 14 and 23, which is the period when orders were first introduced in some parts of the United States instructing people to stay at home and self-isolate.
The findings, which are part of a larger study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that 39.8 percent of those who responded to the survey reported not complying with social distancing recommendations.
The most common reason for not staying at home, cited by 28.2 percent of participants, was needing to work, even if they worked in an industry deemed "non-essential." As one of the respondents pointed out, "Work is not canceled, if I don't go I'll lose my job."
The second most common reason was for reasons of well-being, with 20.3 percent saying that they went outside to carry out their usual social, physical or routine activities to avoid feelings such as "cabin fever." Another respondent said, "I have to get outside now and then for my own sanity."
Childcare was reported by 4.8 percent of those surveyed as being the reason why they didn't comply with social distancing orders. "I have kids and it's impossible to keep them grounded all the time," said one respondent.
Other reasons given for not following social distancing rules included the participants' own beliefs, such as believing that handwashing alone was enough to stop the spread of the virus (18.8 percent of people), wanting to continue everyday activities (13.9 percent) of people, and believing that society was overreacting to the outbreak (12.7 percent).
The researchers also analyzed what words participants used in their responses, and found that the youngest group aged 18 to 31 were more likely to use first-person singular words such as "I" and "me," which, the researchers say indicates that they are more self-centered than other groups surveyed. This group also showed more anxiety than others, using words such as "anxious," "disturb" and "nervous" more frequently, despite having the lowest risk of COVID-19. This group also had the highest rate of non-compliance compared to other age groups, with 52.4 percent failing to follow the rules.
In contrast, the oldest, and most at-risk group (65-years-old and up) showed the least anxiety in their responses.
"A key takeaway for me was how resilient the older population seems," said co-author James Hancock. "They are not as anxious or self-focused as young people. I think this runs counter to the narrative that the old are weak and frail, and instead, they are practiced at social distancing and being comfortable in their home."
"Shelter-at-home is clearly much more difficult for younger people as they are used to more social interactions and life out of the home," said Hancock."