Some parents misled others about their kids' covid status, study finds

Students leave Washington-Liberty High School in Arlington County which is one of several school districts which sued to stop the mask-optional order by Governor Glenn Youngkin (R), in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., January 25, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Some parents in the United States were dishonest about their children having the coronavirus or did not follow testing and quarantine guidelines, according to a study published Monday.

The parents' behaviors could have contributed to the spread of the coronavirus, said the study's authors, who included researchers from U.S. and British universities.

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The study, though, may not be demographically representative of U.S. parents since people were not chosen through random sampling. Parents were recruited to participate through a panel of volunteer online survey takers. Also, 70 percent of the respondents were women.

More than 1.1 million people have died of the coronavirus in the United States, and more than 103 million cases have been reported, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. Globally, there have been more than 6.8 million deaths and 758 million infections because of the coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization.

The latest study on pandemic behavior in JAMA Network Open, a peer-reviewed publication, offers some clues about how the virus spread in the United States.

The researchers analyzed answers by 580 parents who had children under the age of 18 living with them during the course of the pandemic. The survey was conducted in December 2021.

Parents chose not to disclose their child's covid status most commonly because they said they wanted "to exercise personal freedom as a parent," the study authors stated. Parents also wanted their children to "resume a normal life."

Some parents were dishonest about their children's vaccination status to allow them to participate in activities; others said they covered up their children's covid status so they would not miss school; and still others said they did not tell the truth as they could not afford to miss work themselves, the researchers found.

"The pandemic created tremendous stress for all of us, but especially for parents," said Andrea Gurmankin Levy, a professor of psychology at Middlesex Community College in Connecticut and one of the lead authors of the report.

She said some behaviors by parents were "serious and concerning," and "likely resulted in more Covid-19 cases and more deaths."

This suggests, she added, that "we need to do a better job of providing support mechanisms like paid sick leave for family illness, so that parents don't feel like their only options are to be dishonest about their child having COVID-19 or having their child break quarantine rules."

Researchers said that concerns about missing school were legitimate.

"As a parent of three school-aged kids, I can understand that," Angela Fagerlin, co-lead author of the study and the chair of the department of population health services at the University of Utah, said in a statement. "Yet, at the same time, they're potentially exposing other kids to a serious illness. So, it's tricky because what you might think is best for your child might not be best for other children in the classroom."

The study also found that some parents mischaracterized their children's ages to get them vaccinated before the children were eligible for coronavirus vaccines. The United States began vaccinating the youngest children - 6 months to 5 years of age - in mid-2022, more than a year and a half after they were offered to adults.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in December found that 42 percent of children ages 12 to 17 and 61 percent of children ages 5 to 11 were unvaccinated.

A Pew Research Center poll, though, found that concerns about covid risks to students and teachers fell sharply from mid-2020 to early 2021 and even during the omicron peak in January 2022, while concerns about students falling behind and their emotional well-being rose.

An earlier study of pandemic behavior by the same researchers found that many Americans misled others about their covid status or whether they adhered to the public health guidelines.

The researchers in this most recent study said that these findings also offer lessons for future pandemics. The concerns of parents need to be addressed so that "misrepresentation and nonadherence feel less necessary," they said.

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