When should you self-isolate?

Room for improvement in pubic's understanding
  • Deborah Condon

The public's understanding of when they need to self-isolate in relation to COVID-19 could be improved, a new study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) suggests.

According to the findings, when it comes to less common symptoms of the virus, the number of people who think self-isolation is necessary falls.

As part of the study, which was carried out in April, members of the public were presented with different scenarios and were then asked to judge whether self-isolation was necessary.

The study found that while almost 88% of people understood that if someone has a fever or dry cough, they should self-isolate, just 49% of people felt they should self-isolate if they had less common symptoms, such as a sore throat, aches and pains.

Furthermore, people were more likely to say that someone who was asymptomatic but had been in contact with a suspected case of COVID-19 should self-isolate, compared to someone with flu-like symptoms who had not been in contact with a suspected case.

This is despite the fact that public health guidelines are clear that people with any flu-like symptoms are required to self-isolate.

"Self-isolation will continue to be a vital part of the battle against COVID-19 in the coming months, so we need people to understand when it is needed. Our study shows that while understanding in relation to primary symptoms is good, the message about less common symptoms has not yet been fully absorbed," commented Pete Lunn, head of the ESRI's Behavioural Research Unit.

Meanwhile, the study also tested a range of communication techniques designed by behavioural scientists to improve decisions about self-isolation. It found that simple flow diagrams improved people's decision making.

An online planning tool also helped people to feel that they could cope with a period of self-isolation, while providing advice in the form of infographics improved people's retention and understanding of information about how to self-isolate.

Findings from the study have now been incorporated into the Department of Health's social media campaign and have been promoted by the department through its online channels, the ESRI noted.


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