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09 September 2020

Better support may help people with COVID-19 symptoms to self-isolate

A new study led by King’s College London researchers has shown that during the UK lockdown period, people who received support from outside their home were more likely to adhere to self-isolation when there were symptoms of cough or fever within their household.

Better support may help people with COVID-19 symptoms to self-isolate

A new, continuous cough or fever are both key symptoms which should lead people to self-isolate and to request a test for COVID-19.

According to the researchers better ways to help people adhere to measures will be needed as we move into the next phase of contact tracing and self-isolation and this will require more impactful communication about the actions that should be taken when COVID-19 symptoms are suspected and better support for people trying to self-isolate.

Published in the journal Public Health the study surveyed over 2000 people between 5 and 6 May 2020 and analysed the association of a range of factors with non-adherence to self-isolation.

The research was led by researchers from the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response (HPRU EPR) at King’s College London in collaboration with researchers from Public Health England and the University of Bristol.

Results showed that nearly 1 in 10 people in the sample reported that either they had experienced a cough or fever in the last seven days or someone in their household had experienced a cough or fever in the last 14 days. Within this group a quarter of people report fully self-isolating by staying home.

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first comprehensive study to investigate factors associated with self-isolation during lockdown in the UK. Our results suggest that there is room for improvement in adherence to government measures though we need to bear in mind that these are the results of an online survey from early May, and that adherence to self-isolation is tricky to measure properly.

Dr James Rubin, senior author, from the HPRU EPR, King’s College London

He continued, ‘The UK has entered a new phase of the pandemic, in which extensive testing, contact tracing and isolation will be required to keep the spread of COVID-19 in check. We know most people want to follow the guidelines and do the right thing by self-isolating, but it needs to be made easier.’

Further analysis of this group showed that men were more likely to have left the house when they or a household member had symptoms of a cough or a fever.

An increased likelihood of self-isolating was associated with having received help from someone outside the household, indicating the importance of support from community networks at this time.

Notably men were more likely to report having been out in the last 24 hours if they or someone in their household was symptomatic, suggesting that communication campaigns that specifically target men may have merit.

Louise Smith, first author, from the HPRU EPR, King’s College London

She added, ‘Adherence was also associated with having received help from someone outside your household, which makes intuitive sense. It is easier to stay at home if someone else can help bring you shopping, take over chores outside the home and so on. Allowing those in self-isolation to submit requests for help may be a pragmatic way to improve adherence.’

Reference: Smith, L. et al (2020) Factors associated with adherence to self-isolation and lockdown measures in the UK: a cross-sectional survey. Public Health DOI: 10.1016/j.puhe.2020.07.024


For interviews or any further media information, including a copy of the paper to view under embargo, please contact:

Franca Davenport, Interim Senior Press Officer, IoPPN: +44 7718 697176

In this story

James Rubin

Professor of Psychology & Emerging Health Risks