Many symptomatic Australians not staying home or getting tested, survey finds

Monash University

More than a third of Australians with cold- or flu-like symptoms spent time in public and almost one in five attended work in person despite rampant COVID-19 cases and deaths, a survey from Monash University has revealed.

The latest results from the Survey of COVID-19 Responses to Understand Behaviour (SCRUB) project, released today, examined symptomatic Australians’ behaviours, how our mental health was tracking and what was concerning the population overall.

BehaviourWorks Australia, part of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, is leading the Australian chapter of SCRUB in partnership with the Victorian Government.

These results, collected between late August and early September, form the eighth round of data collection and provide policymakers with actionable insights into public attitudes and behaviours relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey found just 27 per cent of people with symptoms reported getting tested for COVID-19, up from 15 per cent in the previous round of SCRUB.

A fifth of those with symptoms said they didn’t get tested because they didn’t think they had COVID-19.

However, of those that were symptomatic, almost 20 per cent attended work and more than a third spent time in public, only a third wore a face mask and just a quarter avoided close contact with those they live with.

Thirteen per cent of participants who did get tested did not stay home while waiting for their results, with 15 per cent of that group stating they didn’t know they needed to.

In positive news, SCRUB found the majority of Australians (81 per cent) report they always follow COVID-19 rules and regulations, while compliance with levels of protective behaviours – such as hand washing, wearing face masks and keeping physical distance from people outside of home – stayed the same or increased on the previous survey.

Australians revealed their biggest concern was an economic recession followed by society becoming more selfish and small companies failing.

However, an analysis of previous rounds of SCRUB revealed people are starting to worry less about economic, health and social issues.

Participants did state their mental health had taken a dip, with 30 per cent stating they have much or somewhat worse mental health than before the pandemic.

Seventy-seven per cent said they are in good to excellent mental health.

Lead researcher Dr Peter Slattery said this round of SCRUB results was conflicting.

“It’s great to see Australians aren’t becoming complacent and are maintaining personal protective behaviours at a high rate,” he said. “Outbreaks last month in New Zealand and New South Wales, as well as the continued high case numbers in Melbourne saw most people across Australia do the right thing.

“It is also positive to see that Australians are worrying less about issues compared to the last round of SCRUB, indicating that we feel, as a nation, that we are on the road to recovery.

“What is concerning, however, is that we are still seeing people who have cold- and flu-like symptoms either fail to get tested, or spend time in the community whilst symptomatic.

“We cannot have symptomatic people acting as though they don’t have the virus when they simply can’t be sure. That’s one of the ways the virus spreads and it will continue to be an issue unless more people get tested and isolate until they receive a negative result.”

/Public Release.