Is the coronavirus worrying the Spanish? Do you consider COVID-19 a serious disease? When and how much do they use the mask? Where do you go for information about the pandemic? The answers to these questions can determine the public policies to be applied in our country to avoid spread of SARS-CoV-2 among citizens.
The success or failure of these policies depends, to a large extent, on the degree of acceptance or reluctance of the population. Therefore, keeping an up-to-date monitoring of these attitudes may mean being one step closer to avoiding contagion and defeating the pandemic.
He Carlos III Health Institute (ISCIII) coordinates COSMO-Spain, a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) that measures the perception of the Spanish population regarding the coronavirus and how knowledge about the pandemic evolves. This work, which is carried out in 31 other European countries, uses surveys at different times of the year as a monitoring tool. With the responses, the team at ISCIII prepares reports that will be forwarded to public authorities, who will finally design health and awareness campaigns.
Maria Romay-Barja, head of the preliminary phase of the study and researcher at the National Center for Tropical Medicine (CNMT) and researcher at COSMO-Spain, highlights to SINC that this tool “has already demonstrated in other countries its usefulness to identify the information needs of citizens and to know the degree of acceptance and adherence to the implemented measures “, adding that it can also be used to know” risk behaviors, the impact of disinformation, psychological factors and preventive behavior “.
“It is very important to know the level of fear, the perception of risk and concern of the population, which can help or complicate attempts to prevent the spread of the disease,” says the researcher, emphasizing that public institutions must have available this information updated to the evolution of the pandemic.
A constantly evolving survey
The preliminary results from the survey conducted in May 2020, which are already published, show that most respondents (83%) consider COVID-19 a serious or very serious illness. Good knowledge about the most frequent contagion routes also stands out: droplets when speaking or coughing (response of 99% of those surveyed), touching a contaminated surface (89%) and maintaining physical contact with someone infected (77%). Lastly, washing hands frequently (99%), keeping a distance of two meters (94%), coughing into the inside of the elbow (87%), wearing a mask and cleaning surfaces (both with 85%) are the methods more effective to avoid contagion.
According to Romay-Barja, the results are “adequate” to the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic at that time, “when we had been confined for a month and a half.” “It was to be expected that people were very aware and informed, there was a very high risk perception. Most considered it to be a serious disease and that they could be infected,” he says.
However, a high understanding of the coronavirus does not determine the application of preventive measures to avoid it. The researcher clarifies that “there are many diseases, both chronic and infectious, in which we see that the level of knowledge is not related to the attitudes nor with the practices of the population. ”
Carmen Rodriguez, from the National Epidemiology Center (CNE) and also a researcher at COSMO-Spain, points out to SINC that there are “psychological, social and conceptual” factors that can vary over time and determine whether or not people “apply preventive measures.” For this reason, the survey needs to be repeated in subsequent months as the pandemic and perceptions of COVID evolve.
“Although we won’t know until the next round [de la encuesta], It seems that risk perception it has decreased in less vulnerable populations or in those that were believed to be less vulnerable “, Romay-Barja comments as an example.
What sources do we trust?
COSMO-Spain pay special attention to how Spaniards inform themselves about the coronavirus and the situation of the pandemic in the country. For this reason, the study includes variables dedicated to knowing the sources that respondents go to for information and what reliability they give to each one.
In the same way, the researchers also contemplate studying the impact and quantity of misinformation, although it is not appreciated in the results of the preliminary study. “On the contrary, the population seems to be informed and highly knowledgeable, but we have to see how this evolves over time,” says Romay-Barja.
Thus, newscasts (response of 67% of respondents), the press and press conferences (both with 45%) are the most used ways to find out about COVID-19. At the other extreme, WhatsApp (13%), television programs (25 5%), the website of the Ministry of Health (30%) and radio (31%) are the least used to keep up to date.
Regarding the social networks (32%), Rodríguez points out that its relevance as a source of information depends on the use of users and if they know reliable and good scientific dissemination accounts.
“There are sectors of the population, such as young boys, who do not go to television or press, but go to streamings and youtubers“, he says, considering the possibility of” promoting the use of social networks “to disseminate” scientific quality information that reaches certain areas of the population “, although it is not the final objective of the study” nor can we do much ” .
Regarding the reliability given to the different information channels, the people surveyed consider the Health website the best, followed by press conferences. The most dubious, on the other hand, are Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.
Next phases: possible vaccines and back to school
The next COSMO-Spain surveys will be conducted in autumn and winter 2020, in addition to the current phase for which data is already being collected after the preliminary in May. In them, as detailed by the researchers, variables will be included on the possible vaccinations for COVID and the confidence and perception of the population towards candidate vaccines. In the same way, they will collect more data on the use of the mask, social distance and schools reopening at the beginning of the school year. In addition, in the next rounds of the study, we will have the collaboration of the researcher María Falcón, from the University of Murcia, and other institutions will soon be incorporated.
Maria João Ironforge, coordinator of COSMO-Spain and researcher at the CNE, highlights to SINC the dynamism of this work to keep up with the evolution of the pandemic. “There are some questions that are repeated in each round, but the survey changes according to the social and epidemiological situation to be able to respond to what worries at all times, “he says.
Similarly, Ironforge confirms that in the next rounds of response to the study it will be possible to filter the results according to sex, age group and educational level. “The population sample is 1,000, but it can be segregated to a certain extent,” he says.
Finally, the preliminary study considered some questions and variables about mental health, dedicated to the feeling of loneliness and sadness during confinement. On this point, Ironforge clarifies that at the time this survey was conducted “it seemed very important to us, but mental health is not the objective of the study.” In this regard, she points out that there are already works being developed in Spain aimed only at aspects such as loneliness, sadness and anxiety.