Central PA residents were well informed about the pandemic, felt overloaded by the information

Ioannis Pashakis//May 18, 2021

Central PA residents were well informed about the pandemic, felt overloaded by the information

Ioannis Pashakis//May 18, 2021

Midstate residents were mostly well informed on what was needed to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic but were overwhelmed with worries about mixed messages and distrust of some sources, according to researchers at the Penn State College of Medicine.

The Hershey-based medical college announced this week that its researchers recently published the results of a March 2020 survey from nearly 6,000 people living in central Pennsylvania.

The goal of the study was to determine if residents had stayed informed about COVID-19, where they received their information from, their willingness to work with public health recommendations and their level of trust in information sources.

Researchers found that four out of five survey respondents were likely to have “adequate” knowledge about the pandemic, with 43% of respondents indicating government websites as their most trusted source of information and 27% pointing to news media.

Despite the high percentage of education around the virus, researchers found that people didn’t trust certain sources and were concerned about mixed messages in the early days of the pandemic.

“Panic and pandemic fatigue are real problems, especially when it comes to health communication,” said Dr. Robert Lennon, associate professor of family and community medicine at the College of Medicine and adjunct faculty at Penn State Law. “An important question to ask is, when the time comes for key information to be communicated, will people be able to hear the messages public health officials and government leaders try to send amidst so many competing and conflicting messages?”

In an open-ended response section of the surveys, respondents expressed three key worries, including: fears that they or their family would contract COVID-19; public health concerns like asymptomatic spread of the virus and community members not practicing social distancing; and worries about economic and social disruptions.

“We found that some people had negative feelings about how the pandemic was portrayed in the news,” said Dr. Lauren Van Scoy, professor of medicine, humanities and public health sciences. “Others were concerned that people had politicized the pandemic response and expressed a distrust of information provided by the executive branch of the government.”

The results of the survey were published in Annals of Family Medicine, a peer-reviewed journal, last week.

The researchers noted that one place the study was lacking was in responses from racial and ethnic minorities. Survey data shows that there were possible knowledge disparities among those groups, according to the college.