Study Finds Lack of Honesty About Following COVID-19 Public Health Measures During the Pandemic

Many people wanted life to feel normal during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, this reason, among many, resulted in people not adhering to public health measures in the United States.

In a recent study, nearly 50% of an examined cohort reported misrepresenting and/or not adhering to public health measures during the COVID-19 during the pandemic. Younger participants and those who distrust science were more likely to misrepresent or not adhere to policy items, according to the study, published in JAMA Network Open.

Behavioral reasons for these actions included “wanting life to feel normal, wanting to exercise personal freedom, feeling that it is no one else’s business, and not feeling very sick,” the study authors wrote.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, governments, businesses, and many other organizations created measures to mitigate disease spread. But public health measures can create burdens on psychological, social, financial, and physical health, which could lead people to not adhere or misrepresent policies. An example of not adhering to public health measures could include lying about COVID-19 test results or vaccination status.

The investigators responded to a lack of research on reasons for disregarding COVID-19 policies. They conducted this study to assess the frequency of, reason for, and associated factors with nonadherence and misrepresentation regarding COVID-19 public health measures.

After surveying 1733 participants, researchers found that almost half of the cohort did not adhere to public health measures, for reasons including personal autonomy, scientific denial, or denial about reputable medical information.

The most common actions that participants made against public health measures include “overstating COVID-19 preventive measures they are taking, breaking quarantine rules, avoiding getting tested for COVID-19 when they thought they might have it, and not mentioning that they thought or knew they had COVID-19 when being screened to enter a clinician’s office,” the study authors wrote.

The results also suggest that younger participants were more likely to be dishonest and ignore COVID-19 public health measures. They were also less likely to disclose truthful medical information, generally adhere to medical practices, and follow COVID-19 preventative measures.

Those who do not believe in science were also more likely to be nonadherent to COVID-19 public health measures. This population was less likely to mask, get vaccine updates, and not adhere to other public health behaviors.

“These findings suggest that misrepresentation and nonadherence regarding COVID-19 public health measures constitute a serious public health challenge,” the study authors wrote.

Study limitations included beginning with a sample that is not representative of the US population, so insights may be biased. Additionally, participants may have given dishonest responses that underestimate findings. The study cannot speak to frequency of dishonest behaviors, nor could they have the same rational or reasoning now.

“Future work is needed to examine strategies for communicating the consequences of misrepresentation and nonadherence and to address contributing factors,” the study authors wrote.


Levy, Andrea, Thorpe, Alistair, Scherer, Laura, et al. Misrepresentation and Nonadherence Regarding COVID-19 Public Health Measures. October 10, 2022. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(10):e2235837. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.35837