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UW Study Finds Willingness to Participate in Widespread COVID-19 Testing

May 1, 2020

Widespread, voluntary testing to control the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 should be successful because a strong majority of people are willing to be tested, University of Wyoming researchers say.

A survey of 1,000 people conducted by UW economist Linda Thunstrom and her colleagues in the UW College of Business found that 70 percent were willing to be tested for COVID-19 at no cost -- even if a positive result means they must self-isolate for 14 days.

And, in a surprise to the researchers, people who are most likely to widely spread COVID-19 -- extraverts, younger people and others who meet more people in their daily lives -- expressed the highest level of willingness to be tested.

“Our results are encouraging. They imply that voluntary testing may succeed in targeting those who generate the largest social benefits from self-isolation if infected, which strengthens the case for widespread COVID-19 testing,” the UW economists wrote in an article that has been accepted for publication by the journal Behavioral Public Policy.

Joining Thunstrom in the research were UW graduate student Madison Ashworth, of Star Valley; Professors Jason Shogren and David Finnoff; and Assistant Professor Stephen Newbold, all in the UW College of Business. The paper may be viewed here.

While widespread, random testing is not yet available in the current COVID-19 pandemic, public health experts agree it will be required to effectively control the spread of the disease. Still, there is some question as to whether voluntary random testing would be effective, as previous research has shown that some people might avoid being tested -- even if it is free -- out of “willful ignorance.”

Such people could include extraverts who highly value social interactions and people who would lose income by not being able to work during a 14-day isolation period.

“These individuals might find that their private costs outweigh any social benefits of not infecting others. This implies they might want to avoid testing,” Thunstrom and her colleagues wrote. “Many new studies find that people willfully ignore medical diagnoses, even when such knowledge would enable them to adjust behavior to better accommodate their health condition.”

But, in the case of COVID-19, that does not appear to be the case, according to the UW survey. In fact, the researchers found that those most likely to want to be tested are those most likely to spread the virus if unaware of their infection, including young people and extraverts with preference for socializing.

“The ability to afford to self-isolate for 14 days does not seem to affect the willingness to test,” the economists wrote. “Our results suggest there is a significant amount of selflessness in the decision to test; people appear to be highly concerned about the social benefits from testing for COVID-19, and little concerned about private costs.

“Our findings suggest that widely available and costless voluntary testing will target rather than scare off those most likely to be ‘super spreaders,’” the researchers say. “This underscores the value of widespread testing, even if it cannot be truly random, and the importance of making such testing available nationwide in the U.S. as soon as possible.”

Contact Us

Institutional Communications

Bureau of Mines Building, Room 137

Laramie

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-2929

Email: cbaldwin@uwyo.edu

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