Knowledge, Perceptions, and Preferred Information Sources Related to COVID-19 Among Central Pennsylvania Adults Early in the Pandemic: A Mixed Methods Cross-Sectional Survey

Ann Fam Med. 2021 Jul-Aug;19(4):293-301. doi: 10.1370/afm.2674. Epub 2021 May 13.


Purpose: To explore public knowledge, understanding of public health recommendations, perceptions, and trust in information sources related to COVID-19.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey of central Pennsylvanian adults evaluated self-reported knowledge, and a convergent, mixed methods design was used to assess beliefs about recommendations, intended behaviors, perceptions, and concerns related to infectious disease risk, and trust of information sources.

Results: The survey was completed by 5,948 adults. The estimated probability of correct response for the basic knowledge score, weighted with confidence, was 0.79 (95% CI, 0.79-0.80). Knowledge was significantly higher in patients with higher education and nonminority race. While the majority of respondents reported that they believed following CDC recommendations would decrease the spread of COVID-19 in their community and intended to adhere to them, only 65.2% rated social isolation with the highest level of belief and adherence. The most trusted information source was federal public health websites (42.8%). Qualitative responses aligned with quantitative data and described concerns about illness, epidemiologic issues, economic and societal disruptions, and distrust of the executive branch's messaging. The survey was limited by a lack of minority representation, potential selection bias, and evolving COVID-19 information that may impact generalizability and interpretability.

Conclusions: Knowledge about COVID-19 and intended adherence to behavioral recommendations were high. There was substantial distrust of the executive branch of the federal government, however, and concern about mixed messaging and information overload. These findings highlight the importance of consistent messaging from trusted sources that reaches diverse groups.

Keywords: COVID-19; communication; knowledge; messaging; novel coronavirus; pandemic; perceptions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • COVID-19 / psychology*
  • COVID-19 / transmission
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Educational Status
  • Federal Government
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice* / ethnology
  • Humans
  • Information Seeking Behavior*
  • Intention
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pennsylvania
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Social Isolation
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Trust