SCRUB COVID-19 Survey Wave 7: How the health and compliance of Australians is changing over time
Written by Emily Grundy and the SCRUB media team (Marta Mangiarulo and Peter Slattery).
Claims that Australians are becoming more complacent with COVID-19 rules and regulations have been undermined by the latest results from the Survey of COVID-19 Responses to Understand Behaviour (SCRUB) project. Now in its seventh wave of data collection, SCRUB aims to give policy-makers actionable insights into public attitudes and behaviours relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The following is a summary of key findings from data collected between 6 – 12 August and funded by the Victorian Government. This representative sample comprises 967 Australians.
At a glance:
- SCRUB data undermines claims that Australians are becoming complacent.
- The belief that friends and family are safe to have contact with is deterring the efforts of Australians to physically distance in private.
- Most Australians report that their mental and physical health is the same as it was before the pandemic.
- Symptomatic people are staying home but the percentage getting tested is lower than desired.
Are Australians tired of following the rules?
Lockdown fatigue, COVID-19 complacency and boredom are being touted as some of the factors undermining Australia’s attempts to overcome COVID-19 outbreaks. Yet, SCRUB data fails to support these hypotheses.
When SCRUB asked Australians how their compliance compared to last month, 65 per cent reported that it had stayed the same and 28 per cent stated that it had increased. The main reason for this increase, reported by 42 per cent of this subsample, was that there is now a greater risk of contracting COVID-19.
Australians are cognisant of rising cases and outbreaks, they see what is happening across the ditch in New Zealand and they are complying with the rules and regulations. The majority of the population (74 per cent) report often or always following the rules and regulations.
Looking at a breakdown of compliance with specific protective behaviours, we see that most Australians are doing the right thing (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Compliance with COVID-19 protective behaviours (6 – 12 August).
Although Australians are still being urged to keep 1.5 metres from anyone who they don’t live with, SCRUB also finds that compliance with this recommendation differs depending on whether people are in private or public.
With regards to keeping physical distance in public, school, or the workplace, 88 per cent of respondents report often or always doing so, with the most common barrier being a lack of control over whether it happens. This drops down to 73 per cent when asking how people behave with family and friends at private gatherings.
Over two-fifths of the sample (43 per cent) reason that friends and family are safe to have contact with and almost a quarter (22 per cent) state that they are willing to take the risk for their friends and family (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Barriers to physical distancing in private (6 – 12 August).
How does our health compare to before the pandemic?
Every day, we see blogs, emails, ads and signs reminding us to look after ourselves during this time. But how effective are they? What toll are these restrictions, minute-by-minute updates and high levels of compliance having on our physical and mental health?
Over a quarter of respondents (28 per cent) said that their physical health was very good or excellent.
The majority (64 per cent) said that is about the same as pre-pandemic, but over a fifth (22 per cent stated that it is worse.
Regarding mental health, 43 per cent of respondents said that they were in very good or excellent condition. Although 61 per cent of people state that their mental health is the same as it was before the pandemic, one in four (29 per cent) said that it is worse than before the pandemic (figure 3).
Figure 3. Changes in health (6 – 12 August).
Who are we seeking mental health support from?
SCRUB found the most commonly-reported source that people were turning to for mental health support was friends and family (14 per cent).
When considering how they might act in the future, 42 per cent of Australians said that they would seek help from their regular doctor if they were to experience mental health issues.
Figure 4. Who are Australians seeking support from (6 – 12 August).
What are symptomatic people doing?
SCRUB asked respondents whether they had experienced any cold or flu-like symptoms in the past week.
Those that stated that they had were then asked follow-up questions about what they did while symptomatic (Figure 5).
The majority of symptomatic people (62 per cent) report staying at home except for any essential medical care and about a quarter of the sample (23 per cent) avoided close physical contact with those they lived with.
Only 15 per cent of symptomatic people actually got tested for COVID-19. SCRUB dug into the reasons behind this. The most common reason for not being tested when symptomatic was that people (24 per cent of the subsample) did not think they had COVID-19.
Further, almost a fifth (18 per cent) stated that they thought their symptoms were too mild to get tested.
Figure 5. Actions that people took while experiencing cold and flu-like symptoms (6 – 12 August).
Implications for policymakers
Several insights and implications for policy-makers emerge from this data:
- Insight: Compliance does not appear to be decreasing over time. People are more likely to report increased compliance when the risk of contracting the virus is greater. Implication: Acknowledge the efforts of Australians and highlight the positive social norms that are emerging from SCRUB data. Emphasising the risks of contracting COVID-19, and the exponential rate at which it spreads, can result in greater compliance.
- Insight: Compliance with physical distancing is lower in private than in public, with two-fifths of respondents reporting that they believe their family and friends are safe to have contact with. Implication: Reiterate the importance of physical distancing in private, emphasising that family and friends may be asymptomatic and that we must comply in order to keep them safe.
- Insight: A fifth of the sample report that their physical health is worse than before the pandemic and a quarter state that their mental health has declined. Implication: Investigate whether the public is aware of available resources and, if so, what the barriers and facilitators of increasing health are. Strategies that combine social connectedness and health, such as having an accountability buddy, should be encouraged.
- Insight: The majority of people report staying at home when symptomatic, but not many report getting tested for COVID-19. The main reason provided for this is that people don’t think they have the virus. Implication: Emphasise the norm that people are staying home when sick. Campaigns should reiterate that COVID-19 affects people in different ways – some people will develop only very mild symptoms and others may be asymptomatic altogether.
Learn more or get involved
SCRUB measures behaviour, behavioural drivers, COVID-19 attitudes and beliefs and demographic variables. Outputs include:
- An interactive dashboard of survey responses.
- Open data for research academics to answer urgent behavioural research questions and to provide a resource for future pandemic preparedness.
The Australian chapter of SCRUB is being led by BehavioursWorks Australia. To learn more about the SCRUB survey, please visit the website and interactive dashboard. You can access the survey and data here.
You can also help the research team provide more policy-relevant snapshots of the COVID-19 pandemic by taking part in the survey.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to use the SCRUB survey to collect data in your country or state (voluntarily or funded), or want access to the data.