College of Nursing faculty member and team research COVID-19 public messaging

Brooke Killmon
May 28, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As the development of the novel coronavirus pandemic continues, so does the public health messaging that is relayed to people around the world. Because the virus has yet to be completely understood by many health professionals, the need to understand which public health messages are providing accurate and informative messages to the community and which are causing unnecessary anxiety grows daily.

Penn State Professor of Nursing Oluwamuyiwa "Winnie" Adebayo, along with principal investigator and pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Jessica Ericson, Dr. Catharine Paules and Dr. Patrick Gavigan from the Hershey Medical Center, are researching and evaluating the public’s knowledge and belief in the validity of health messaging related to COVID-19, such as social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

Oluwamuyiwa Winnie Adebayo

Oluwamuyiwa "Winnie" Adebayo

IMAGE: Provided

Adebayo and the team hope to better understand how the public processes and interprets this information, and then ultimately how the public responds to the health messaging.

With seed grant funding provided through the Social Sciences Research Institute and the Huck Institutes for the Life Sciences, the research team plans to facilitate questionnaires to individuals who have been admitted with a positive COVID-19 test result or flu-like symptoms, or who are presently seeking COVID-19 testing at any mobile testing unit, emergency department, outpatient clinic, or inpatient admission at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

The questionnaire aims to understand individuals’ perceptions of the public health messages — such as if they agree with the messages or not, the reasoning behind those beliefs, their ability to comply with the messages, and other information like demographics, medical comorbidities, recent travel history, social history, household status, symptoms, and what led them to want COVID-19 testing.

“I recognize that people who are not technical, who are not scientifically minded, who are inclined to misbelieve scientists or the government or both, may have a different opinion about what we've been saying,” Ericson said. “If that's the case, then I'm interested in improving how we talk to those groups of people so that they come away with an understanding of what they need to do and why it's important.”

Quantitative data analysis will then be taken from the collected questionnaires, with the hypothesis being that those who tested COVID-19 negative would adhere to the social distancing recommendations more than those who tested positive.

According to the researchers, understanding what factors differentiate the two groups will help identify further subgroups that are not responding appropriately to the messaging. Identifying the factors that influence peoples' adherence to messaging will allow for better tailored public health messaging in the event that COVID-19 continues longer than expected or that a recurrent outbreak of COVID-19 occurs.

“The chances that we're going to have an infectious disease, like this outbreak, again is not unlikely," Adebayo said. "It is possible. It happens and there is a chance that it is going to happen again. This would help us prepare for subsequent outbreaks in the future that are unrelated to COVID-19."

Each member of the team brings their own set of professional experience that makes the research project successful. Abedayo specializes in STI testing and how that translates to changes in people’s behavior in regard to seeking testing.

“I bring that expectation to the project, and understanding how public health messaging encourages people's behavior,” said Adebayo. “I also bring the qualitative pieces to the study, which is the web survey and open-ended questions that we analyze, using qualitative analysis techniques.”

Research and questionnaires related to the project, "Perceptions of Public Health Messaging among Patient seeking COVID-19," are ongoing. Read more about Penn State COVID-19 projects here.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 03, 2020