Stanford Study: Young Adults Flout Social Distancing Rules

STANFORD, CA — Until there’s a vaccine or a cure for the new coronavirus, adherence to social distancing rules is our only hope of surviving this pandemic.

But to a large segment of the population – and young adults in particular – getting a paycheck, staying in shape, maintaining their sanity and being able to gather with friends are higher priorities.

That’s the finding of newly-released Stanford study, which says most adults aged 18 to 31 and nearly 40 percent of those surveyed have defied social distancing rules that epidemiologists say are the most effective tool we have to save lives and shorten the time we all spend under lockdown.

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The survey was conducted by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Stanford’s Communications and Epidemiology Departments and published as a non-peer reviewed document on medRxiv.

The survey was conducted between March 14-23, when states and local governments were just starting to implement stay-at-home orders. Researchers collected data on social media platforms from 20,734 survey respondents on Twitter, Facebook and NextDoor.

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The study mirrored what co-author Eleni Linos, a dermatologist and epidemiologist at the Stanford School of Medicine, saw with her own eyes.

“As I looked around my own neighborhood in early March, some people were rushing to gather supplies and isolate, while others were going about their normal lives,” Linos said. “Our study shows that different people are experiencing this crisis in different ways. Not everyone has the same opportunities.”

The study reports that 39.8% of survey respondents said they failed to comply with social distancing rules, and 52.4 of those aged between 18 to 31 failed to comply.

The leading factor cited for noncompliance is work, with 28.2% of survey respondents working in non-essential industries with jobs that can’t be done at home.

Concerns about mental and physical well-being were cited by 20.3 percent of respondents.

Respondents had other reasons too, with 18.8% of the survey respondents believing hand washing to be sufficient, 13.9% expressing their desire to continue everyday activities, and 12.7% saying they believed social distancing rules reflected societal overreaction.

“I hope that governments use these findings and recommendations to improve how they communicate public health orders for sheltering-in-place so that we can get as much compliance as possible,” said Jeff Hancock, a communications and co-author of the paper.

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