Well-Being Prevention & Cures

4 in 10 misrepresented COVID status, adherence to public health measures: research

Many people lied about adhering to COVID-19 protocols because they “wanted to exercise personal freedom.”
A health worker prepares an injection of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus at a vaccination centre, set up at the Dubai International Financial Center in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, on Feb. 3. Getty Images

Story at a glance


  • A survey of over 1,700 people found that 42 percent admitted to lying about their vaccination status or adhering to COVID-19 public health safety measures.  

  • Findings from the survey were recently published in the online medical journal JAMA Network Open. 

  • Some of the respondents admitted to misleading others about their adherence to COVID-19 health protocols because “they didn’t think COVID was real.”  

Over 40 percent of United States residents misled others on either their COVID-19 vaccination status or how they followed public health guidelines, according to a new study.  

In a survey of 1,733 U.S. adults conducted in December 2021, researchers found 42 percent of participants admitted to not adhering or misrepresenting how they were adhering to COVID-19 protocols.

The survey findings were published this week in the American Medical Association’s online monthly journal JAMA Network Open. 


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Out of respondents that admitted to misleading others related to COVID-19, about a quarter said they told someone that they were taking more COVID-19 preventative measures than they were.  

Another 22 percent admitted to breaking COVID-19 quarantine rules; 21 percent said they avoided getting tested for COVID-19 when they thought they might have the virus; and 20 percent said they lied about knowing they had the virus when screened to enter a clinician’s office.  

Over a million people in the United States alone have died as a result of COVID-19 and over 6.5 million have died due to the disease worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 data dashboard. 

Public health measures have the ability to dramatically reduce the spread and impact of a disease, researchers note. “But their success depends on the public’s willingness to be honest about and adherent to these measures.” 

The survey findings also show that the public health guidelines administered during the pandemic might have been flawed.  

“These data point out to us that a strategy that relies on people admitting to having symptoms or the actual diagnosis may not be the best strategy in future pandemics,” said Angela Fagerlin, senior author of the study and the chair of the Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Utah Health told The Seattle Times. “The data suggest many people will be dishonest for a variety of different reasons.” 

Some of the most common reasons respondents reported for not adhering to COVID-19 protocols were because they “wanted to feel normal” or wanted to “exercise personal freedom,” according to the study.

Others said they lied about following health guidelines because they were “following guidance from a public figure I trust” like a politician, scientist or celebrity. A smaller portion of survey respondents said they just “didn’t think COVID-19 was real” or they “didn’t want someone to judge or think badly of me.”