QCOSTARICA – Costa Ricans (Ticos) went from not knowing a single suspected or confirmed case of covid-19 in April to learning of four or more patients in their environment in a matter of seven months due to the accelerated advance of the coronavirus in the country.
Despite the above, the behavior of the population towards the covid-19, from April to November 2020, reveals that people lost respect for the virus, as their perception of risk varied in that period, increasing their exposure.
The perception of the personal possibility of being infected has remained constant in that period, reaching an average level; not so the idea that people have about the risk that others run, which does tend to be higher than the appreciation of personal risk.
In addition, although habits such as hand washing, the use of a mask, or avoiding touching the face increased substantially compared to times before the pandemic, as of September started a downward trend, although always within the practice range of “more frequent than before”.
An international study, of 51,380 participants, in which 1,878 Costa Ricans participated with 15 other countries, draws the perception of risk and the behavior of the inhabitants here in the face of the coronavirus.
Titled ‘Risk perception and human behavior in the context of the coronavirus pandemic’, the study was carried out jointly by Costa Rica’s Universidad Estatal a Distancia (UNED) and Germany’s University of Konstanz.
In the Costa Rican case, the sample was made up mainly of women, single people, and of salaried or independent workers ranging in age from 18 to 89 years; the average was 33 years.
This data collection was carried out between April 13 and November 19, with the support of students from TCU-719 from the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and from the DAES-UNED Scholarship program.
It is not the first time that the UNED has participated in a study on pandemics. They last did in 2009, with the so-called swine flu, the AH1N1 flu.
Benicio Gutiérrez Doña, the main investigator of the Spanish-speaking study, explained that the model used is one of procedural action in health, implemented, as he said, to investigate the reactions of people in a pandemic and pre-pandemic phase. This model becomes a mathematical one.
“With this we intend to measure the risks and self-efficacy of a person in the face of a pandemic. The combination of perceptions or risks are what determine whether or not someone systematically adopts precautionary measures,” explained the researcher.
In these types of studies, he said, the size of the sample is not important, it is cumulative, with a minimum of people at each measurement point.
In December, Gutiérrez warned that the country was at a breaking point in the face of the pandemic, where whatever was done in those days and how it was done, will mean gains or losses in the face of the pandemic.
The data from the perception study show, for example, substantial support for the measures dictated by the government to contain and mitigate the effects of the pandemic, which until August, including well into September, were considered “very effective.”
However, the population’s support for some of them, such as home confinement, the closure of borders, or the cancellation of public events, began to plummet, reaching a perception range of “moderately effective.”
In one of the most important measures, physical distancing, during the seven months analyzed, people decreased their perception of being “totally in agreement that it is necessary”, in April, while their appreciation of “it does more harm than good” increased, in November.
Therefore, the researchers recommend that:
- Health authorities and the government address the discrepancy in the perception of risk among the people detected in the analysis.
- The loss of credibility in the effectiveness of precautionary measures and in the perception of feeling protected that was detected in the population must be addressed.
- And to urgently re-educate people about the risks of contagion of different respiratory diseases and others with an impact on public health.