Logo StatCan COVID-19: Data to Insights for a Better CanadaCanadians’ support for random COVID-19 testing

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by Kristyn Frank and Rubab Arim

Currently, testing for the prevalence of COVID-19 is limited to individuals who actively seek a test, resulting in a selective set of cases that are largely presenting symptoms associated with the virus. This prevents an accurate measurement of COVID-19 infection rates within the larger population, as asymptomatic individuals generally do not request to be tested for COVID-19 (Hilborne et al. 2020; Padula 2020; Thunström et al. 2020). Random testing for COVID-19 has been suggested as a valuable and efficient means of obtaining a more complete picture of the extent of infection in the population (Hilborne et al. 2020; Padula 2020). However, little is known about whether Canadians support this strategy.  

Given the need for timely and accurate evidence of the impact of COVID-19 in the wider population, knowledge of Canadians’ attitudes toward a strategy of random COVID-19 testing is useful information for policy makers and public health officials. This study examines the extent to which crowdsourcing participants support random testing for COVID-19, with a focus on differences by sociodemographic characteristics as well as trust levels in governments and public health authorities. Note that crowdsourcing data are not based on a probability sampling design, and the findings should not be inferred to the overall Canadian population.Note 

4 in 10 crowdsourcing participants were supportive of mandatory random COVID-19 testing

Overall, about 4 in 10 crowdsourcing participants strongly agreed or agreed that Canadians selected at random should be required to take a COVID-19 test (Chart 1). More than one-third of participants indicated that they disagree (20.8%) or strongly disagree (16.3%) with this testing strategy, while about 2 in 10 were unsure (neither agree nor disagree).

Chart 1 Crowdsourcing participants' support for mandatory random COVID-19 testing

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 1. The information is grouped by Crowdsourcing participants' level of agreement (appearing as row headers), percent (appearing as column headers).
Crowdsourcing participants' level of agreement percent
Strongly agree 16.3
Agree 25.5
Neither agree nor disagree 21.1
Disagree 20.8
Strongly disagree 16.3

Generally, there were similar levels of support for mandatory random COVID-19 testing between different sociodemographic groups, including gender, education level, and immigration status. One notable exception was by age group. A higher proportion of crowdsourcing participants in the eldest age group (aged 65 or older) indicated a high level of agreement with mandatory random testing than younger crowdsourcing participants aged 15 to 24 (48.5% and 39.4%, respectively).Note 

Crowdsourcing participants’ support for mandatory random COVID-19 testing did not vary by trust in others, government, or public health authorities

Crowdsourcing participants’ support for mandatory random COVID-19 testing did not differ by varying levels of trust in others (Chart 2).  About 4 in 10 participants supported mandatory random testing regardless of their level of general trust in other people.

Chart 1 Monthly imports of disinfectant and sterilization products, personal protective equipment, medical equipment and products, and diagnostic products, January 2019 to May 2020
index (2018 average monthly import value = 100)

Data table for Chart 2 
Data table for chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 2. The information is grouped by Generally speaking, would you say that...
(appearing as row headers), Total and Strongly agree, or agree with mandatory random COVID-19 testing, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Generally speaking, would you say that...
Total Strongly agree, or agree with mandatory random COVID-19 testing
percent
Most people can be trusted 75.7 40.8
Most people can't be trusted 24.3 44.9

Support for mandatory random testing for COVID-19 also did not differ much between crowdsourcing participants who indicated high and low levels of trust in federal, provincial and municipal governments or public health authorities (Table 1). The largest difference was observed between participants with high and low levels of trust in federal public health authorities. Over 4 in 10 participants with a high level of trust in federal public health authorities supported mandatory random testing (43.7%) compared to 36.2% of participants with a low level of trust.


Table 1
Crowdsourcing participants' support for mandatory random COVID-19 testing, by trust in government and public health authorities
Table summary
This table displays the results of Crowdsourcing participants' support for mandatory random COVID-19 testing. The information is grouped by Trust in government to make good decisions about when and how to reopen workplaces and public spaces (appearing as row headers), Total and Strongly agree or agree with mandatory random COVID-19 testing, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Trust in government to make good decisions about when and how to reopen workplaces and public spaces Total Strongly agree or agree with mandatory random COVID-19 testing
Low trust High trust Low trust High trust
percent percent
Federal government 38.5 61.5 37.6 44.4
Federal public health authorities 25.6 74.4 36.2 43.7
Provincial or territorial government 44.2 55.8 39.3 43.7
Provincial or territorial public health authorities 25.7 74.3 39.1 42.7
Municipal government 45.3 54.7 39.8 43.5
Municipal health authorities 34.9 65.1 39.3 43.1

Summary

Overall, about 4 in 10 crowdsourcing participants indicated support for mandatory random COVID-19 testing. Few differences were observed across sociodemographic groups, although participants aged 65 or older indicated greater support than participants aged 15 to 24.  Moreover, the level of support for this health measure varied little by the level of trust participants had in others, in governments, or in public health authorities.

It should be emphasized that the numbers shown in this study reflect participants’ attitudes towards mandatory random testing, as measured at the end of May and the beginning of June 2020, i.e. about two months and a half after the beginning of the economic lockdown. Whether such attitudes will become more favourable to mandatory random testing if the duration of the pandemic increases remains to be seen.

Methodology

Results for this study were drawn from Statistics Canada’s crowdsourcing data collection series The Impacts of COVID-19 on Canadians: Trust in Others. From May 26 and June 8, 2020 over 36,000 participants voluntarily completed this online questionnaire which focused on the level of trust Canadians have in government, in businesses, and in others, and their views regarding the reopening of workplaces and public spaces. Participants’ support for mandatory random COVID-19 testing was determined by their response to the following statement: “Canadians selected at random should be required to take a COVID-19 test.” Responses were measured on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree).

Readers should note that crowdsourcing data are not collected under a sample design using probability-based sampling. As a result, the findings cannot be applied to the overall Canadian population. Please refer to Frank and Arim (2020) and Schellenberg and Fonberg (2020) for additional results from this data collection initiative.

References

Frank, K. and R. Arim. 2020. “Canadians’ willingness to get a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available – what role does trust play?” Statistics Canada Catalogue No. 45-28-0001.

Hilborne, L.H., Z. Wagner, I. Cabreros and R.H. Brook. 2020. “Linking statistics with testing policy to manage COVID-19 in the community.” American Journal of Clinical Pathology. DOI: 10.1093/AJCP/AQAA099.

Padula, W.V. 2020. “Why only test symptomatic patients? Consider random screening for COVID-19.” Applied Health Economics Health Policy, April 8, 1-2. DOI: 10.1007/s40258-020-00579-4.

Schellenberg, G. and J. Fonberg. 2020. “Crowdsourcing participants’ trust in government, public health authorities, businesses, and others during the COVID-19 pandemic”. The Daily, June 26, 2020. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-001-X. Ottawa. Statistics Canada.

Thunström. L., M. Ashworth, J.F. Shogen and S. Newbold. 2020. “Testing for COVID-19: willful ignorance or selfless behaviour?” Behavioural Public Policy, May 8, 1-18. DOI: 10.1017/bpp.2020.15.

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