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Concern and Convenience: Predictors of COVID Compliance

Study looks at what motivates college students to take precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Even with vaccines, Utah Valley has reason to be cautious with students returning from winter break. As of December 11, there have been 4,886 COVID-19 cases at Bigham Young University and Utah Valley University, accounting for 1.2% of 397,000 cases reported from American colleges and universities. The spread of COVID-19 on university campuses is of particular concern due to potential spill over into more vulnerable populations and the implications on the surrounding community.

Aware of the concern, students and faculty from the BYU College of Life Sciences recently completed a project to identify the influencers that motivated college students to take precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Expanding the study to include college students across the country, the research team was able to compare the attitudes and behaviors of Utah Valley students to those nationwide. The team surveyed more than 600 students from BYU and UVU and more than 600 college students from campuses across the nation to assess compliance with COVID-19 precautionary behaviors. They found that Utah Valley students’ motivating factors and behaviors differed from the average college student in America.

“Interestingly, concern about the severity of COVID-19’s impact and feelings of inconvenience were the only significant predictors for Utah Valley students’ compliance with social distancing, small groups, and mask-wearing guidelines,” said lead author Spencer Shumway. “Students with greater concern for the virus took precautions more often than students who did not find the virus alarming, and students who found mask-wearing inconvenient—caused glasses to fog, uncomfortable, or hard to remember—were likewise less compliant.”

In contrast, the study identified three significant contributors to COVID-19 guideline compliance amongst undergraduates nationwide. In addition to having a high level of concern about the severity of the virus, those who have a higher rate of news exposure and identify as religious are more compliant with public health guidelines. This is not the case with the Utah Valley students surveyed.

When comparing the populations of those who took the survey, researchers observed that students from Utah Valley are less politically conservative, more religious, more trusting in science, less constitutionalist, and generally less concerned about the pandemic than the other 600 students surveyed. Utah Valley students were also younger than most other university students and more likely to wear a mask indoors when required, although less likely to wear a mask in groups, indoor situations when masks are not required, or in groups outdoors.

“Our team hopes to use these findings to better inform the approaches we take when trying to encourage compliance with precautionary measures in order to slow the spread of this pandemic,” said biology professor Jamie Jensen. “Using data to guide our decisions helps us to more accurately address the issue at hand. We are currently working on designing these data-driven interventions.”

Professor Jensen was the senior researcher with a student team consisting of Spencer G. Shumway from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; Jonas D. Hopper, Daniel G. Ferguson, Gabriella Hubble, and David Patterson from the Department of Biology; and Ethan R. Tolman from the Department of Plant and Wildlife Sciences.