Big majority want to do a coronavirus test until they get a runny nose

Suppose you have a runny nose. You think a mild rhinitis is enough reason to take a coronary test? Are you gonna get tested right away or wait a couple of days? And if you decide to take a test, will you stay in until the results come back?

There is a big difference between the intention of the Dutch to comply with the coronavirus measures and the actual behaviour. For example, 84 percent supports the measure to stay at home in case of coronavirus complaints. But 90 percent do go shopping with complaints and 64 percent visit family and friends.

The most recent survey carried out by the RIVM Behavioural Unit shows that the urgent recommendation to take a coronavirus test if there are (mild) complaints also enjoys a great deal of support. The willingness to test is high: 83 percent of people without complaints indicate that they will be tested if they have complaints. Nevertheless, in reality only 32 percent of people with complaints have had themselves tested in the past six weeks. How is it that the best intentions do not translate into compliance with the coronavirus measures?

Visitors to the coronavirus test street in Amersfoort say to abide by the rules:

The RIVM has few explanations for the figures from the latest survey. “From earlier research into why people don’t get themselves tested, we do know that people don’t always see their symptoms as corona-related. With a common cold the alarm bells often don’t go off”, says behavioural scientist Marijn de Bruin, member of the Behavioural Unit.

A woman who visited the test street in Amersfoort today struggled with the question whether or not to get tested. “I work in health care and I have a nose cold. Actually I don’t think it’s anything, because I often have allergies and other things. But yeah, I have a cold now more than I’ve ever had before.”

Disease schedules

And so everyone weighs up whether a test is really necessary, says Arie Dijkstra, Professor of Social Psychology of Health and Disease at the University of Groningen. “People have disease schedules in their heads. For example, they have knowledge about the symptoms of flu and they know how flu usually progresses. They also have a disease schedule about allergy and one about corona. There’s a big overlap between those schedules. If you have a little cough or you have a runny nose, which of the three fits?”

Dijkstra continues: “If people doubt whether they have corona – for example, because they have a good alternative explanation for their symptoms – they will not be tested. The RIVM would like people to take a test if they have corona at all. In practice, people don’t get tested until they’re pretty sure it’s a corona

Doubts about complaints is not the only reason why, according to Dijkstra, people ignore the test street. Some people prefer not to know if they have corona. Others don’t want to do a test until they have long-term complaints. And then there are all kinds of practical objections, as Arjan Cnossen describes on the CCeit’s Facebook page:

“Do you stop everything because you have a snot nose? Plus the GGD is practically full of 48 hours of waiting, so a test costs you 2 days of work + 36 hours of waiting for a result”

“All in all, you have to conclude that people make a lot of judgements themselves,” says Dijkstra. “They construct a truth that becomes the guiding principle for their behaviour. That truth determines whether they stay indoors with complaints and whether they take a coronavirus test”

‘Less tampering with your own ideas’

Still, the cabinet leaves no room for ambiguity: get tested for symptoms, even if they are still so mild. According to the professor, that’s quite a realistic wish, but people should be helped to determine whether they should take a test.

“I’m thinking of an interactive website that shows people the percentage chance of having corona on the basis of their symptoms. If someone scores above 10 percent, they really have to visit. That way you make it much more concrete and people don’t have to mess around with their own ideas

De Bruin also thinks that more support can ensure that people actually follow the coronavirus measures. “I think we should help people with good examples, with other standards, perhaps with solutions for shopping when people have complaints. In order to convert that motivation into behaviour.”