Social Media Survey Reveals Concerns About Childcare, Lost Wages and Finding Sanitizer

Melissa Bondy, PhD
Chair, Department of Epidemiology and Population Health
Stanford University What is the background for this study?

Response: Faculty researchers in Stanford’s Department of Epidemiology & Population Health and collaborators from Baylor College of Medicine and Stanford’s Department of Dermatology developed an online survey aimed at rapidly assessing public concerns about the COVID-19 crisis. This survey, which was posted on 3 social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, and Nextdoor) on March 14, 2020, collected invaluable data about COVID-19, including symptoms, concerns, and individual actions taken by respondents. Twitter and Facebook posts were sharable to facilitate snowball sampling.

The survey was comprised of 21 (multiple-choice, single-choice, numeric, and open-ended) questions, which were designed to collect data concerning respondent demographics and recent cold and flu-like illnesses (if any), as well as information about participants’ concerns and any lifestyle changes that occurred as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. All questions were optional, so response rates were variable. What are the main findings?

Response: 9009 surveys were completed within a 48 hour period, between March 14 and 16. A majority were very or extremely concerns about COVID-19, though concern varied by age. Most respondents reported making lifestyle changes in response to COVID-19. The most common changes were more hand washing, avoiding social gatherings, and stockpiling food and supplies. About half of the respondents were self-isolating most of the time before shelter-in-place orders, and leaving the house only to buy food and essentials. Respondents who were not self-isolating all of the time, before the shelter-in-place order, most commonly listed not being able to afford missing work as the reason.

The top concerns reported by survey participants were getting sick because of COVID-19 and not being able to get medical care. The most common difficulties reported were obtaining hand sanitizer, food, and childcare. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: This convenience sample survey distributed in mid-March 2020 across 3 social media platforms reflect respondents’ serious concerns about COVID-19. They were preparing for the crisis by washing hands, isolating at home, and practicing social distancing to the best of their abilities. Levels of concern about COVID-19 varied by age groups. Participants expressed the most common difficulties included getting sanitizer or food, arranging childcare, and lost wages or reduced working hours. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Groups who are generally known to be underrepresented in social media, particularly men and older individuals, were underrepresented among survey participants. Few respondents reported concerns about their employment, but the study did not collect information about participants’ socioeconomic status (and was likely high). Our future work will expand geographic representation among survey respondents, with greater focus on longitudinal trends on the health, financial, and social concerns in the United States regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.  

No disclosures or conflicts of interest.

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