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Canadians hungry for credible COVID‑19 information, survey finds
Canadians worked hard at the peak of the first COVID-19 wave to get credible information on the virus, according to an online national survey conducted last spring.
The IPSOS poll of 1,996 people done April 26 to April 31 found most were seeking information from domestic media such as television news and newspapers. Perhaps more surprisingly, respondents said they fact-checked what they were hearing.
“We were pleasantly surprised to find that people were turning to Canadian news television and Canadian newspapers … to get their information, and then doing a number of things to cross-check their information, whether it was going to health websites to cross-check information or . . . seeking out scientific articles,” said Dr. Jeanna Parsons Leigh, a co-author of the article published Oct. 23 in the journal PLOS ONE.
Most respondents - 88 per cent - felt they had good to excellent knowledge of virus transmission and 60 per cent trusted Canadian news television, newspapers/magazines and non-government news websites.
The findings should be used to inform public health communications during COVID-19 and future pandemics, said Parsons Leigh, an assistant professor in Dalhousie’s University’s faculty of health.
She worked with researchers from the University of Calgary, University of Toronto, St. Michael’s Hospital, McMaster University, Hamilton Health Services, and the University of British Columbia for the study.
“It really allows us to then say, OK, let’s target these platforms for our messaging,” she said in a recent phone interview.
“Let’s not forget about newspapers for instance, let’s not forget about the fact people are tuning into the evening news on their television and wanting to know what’s happening in the country.”
Parsons Leigh said those findings highlight the role that journalists should play in debunking the false information that often plagues online discussion of COVID-19.
Another interesting finding related to people’s perception of the importance of face masks, at least at the time the survey was done. About a quarter of respondents were undecided or disagreed that wearing a face mask in public can help prevent spread of the virus, and an additional 33 per cent only somewhat agreed with this statement.
But Parsons Leigh notes masks weren’t mandatory in April and there wasn’t the current consensus among health officials that masks are effective in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“That indicates when our messaging isn’t consistent, people get confused,” she said.
Dr. Jeanna Parsons Leigh co-authored a study into how Canadians are getting information on COVID-19 and the effects of the pandemic on their mental and social well-being. - Dalhousie University
Social isolation and mental health
The study also confirmed that COVID-19 has been hard on Canadians’ mental and social health.
About 45 per cent of respondents reported stress related to the pandemic, 49 per cent said their social health - the ability to meaningfully interact with other people - was worse and 39 per cent reported a toll on their mental and emotional health.
Parsons Leigh said the early emphasis on social distancing, as opposed to the two-metre physical distancing, had serious consequences for Canadians’ well-being. Most people were staying home and were feeling lonely and isolated.
“This study really confirms that while physical distancing is extremely important ... we don’t need to be socially distanced. In fact we should be really looking for ways to be going into the second wave of this pandemic to do the things that we normally did (such as Halloween activities) but in a safe way.”
The survey found that Canadians - at least back in April - were practising a high level of physical distancing and were prepared to continue those practices for the long haul - six months and beyond.
“It is evident that most were motivated to limit social and physical interactions as a means to protect themselves and others from becoming infected with COVID-19,” Parsons Leigh said.
She and the other researchers are diving deeper into the trove of information gleaned in the April survey for a second instalment in the study. For example, they’re looking into where women are more likely to get their information as opposed to men.
“We did find a lot of interesting differences by sex, region and economic status,” Parsons Leigh said. “If you want to target women in this age group, this is where you should be posting your information. If you want to know how women are doing in terms of their mental health relative to men, this is what we know.”
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