Background: Little information exists on how COVID-19 testing influences intentions to engage in risky behavior. Understanding the behavioral effects of diagnostic testing may highlight the role of adequate testing on controlling viral transmission. In order to evaluate these effects, simulated scenarios were conducted evaluating participant intentions to self-isolate based on COVID-19 diagnostic testing availability and results.
Methods: Participants from the United States were recruited through an online survey platform (Amazon Mechanical Turk) and randomized to one of three hypothetical scenarios. Each scenario asked participants to imagine having symptoms consistent with COVID-19 along with a clinical diagnosis from their physician. However, scenarios differed in either testing availability (testing available v. unavailable) or testing result (positive v. negative test). The primary outcome was intention to engage in high-risk COVID-19 behaviors, measured using an 11-item mean score (range 1-7) that was pre-registered prior to data collection. Multi-variable linear regression was used to compare the mean composite scores between conditions. The randomized survey was conducted between July 23rd to July 29th, 2020.
Results: A total of 1400 participants were recruited through a national, online, opt-in survey. Out of 1194 respondents (41.6% male, 58.4% female) with a median age of 38.5 years, participants who had no testing available in their clinical scenario showed significantly greater intentions to engage in behavior facilitating COVID-19 transmission compared to those who received a positive confirmatory test result scenario (mean absolute difference (SE): 0.14 (0.06), P = 0.016), equating to an 11.1% increase in mean score risky behavior intentions. Intention to engage in behaviors that can spread COVID-19 were also positively associated with male gender, poor health status, and Republican party affiliation.
Conclusion: Testing availability appears to play an independent role in influencing behaviors facilitating COVID-19 transmission. Such findings shed light on the possible negative externalities of testing unavailability.
Trial registration: Effect of Availability of COVID-19 Testing on Choice to Isolate and Socially Distance, NCT04459520, https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04459520