Perceptions of the adult US population regarding the novel coronavirus outbreak

PLoS One. 2020 Apr 17;15(4):e0231808. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0231808. eCollection 2020.


The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak is spreading globally. Although COVID-19 has now been declared a pandemic and risk for infection in the United States (US) is currently high, at the time of survey administration the risk of infection in the US was low. It is important to understand the public perception of risk and trust in sources of information to better inform public health messaging. In this study, we surveyed the adult US population to understand their risk perceptions about the COVID-19 outbreak. We used an online platform to survey 718 adults in the US in early February 2020 using a questionnaire that we developed. Our sample was fairly similar to the general adult US population in terms of age, gender, race, ethnicity and education. We found that 69% of the respondents wanted the scientific/public health leadership (either the CDC Director or NIH Director) to lead the US response to COVID-19 outbreak as compared to 14% who wanted the political leadership (either the president or Congress) to lead the response. Risk perception was low (median score of 5 out of 10) with the respondents trusting health professionals and health officials for information on COVID-19. The majority of respondents were in favor of strict infection prevention policies to control the outbreak. Given our results, the public health/scientific leadership should be at the forefront of the COVID-19 response to promote trust.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / psychology
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics
  • Perception
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / psychology
  • Public Health
  • Public Opinion
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.