More than 1 in 4 parents lied to school officials about their children’s COVID-19 status or refused to comply with public health rules during the height of the pandemic, a new study found. Researchers said they suspected the 26% of parents who misrepresented their children’s health status may have undercounted the actual figure.
“If anything, 26% is probably the minimum” of parents who misled school officials, said Angela Fagerlin, PhD, a researcher at the University of Utah Medical School, Salt Lake City.
In the survey, many parents said they considered it their right as parents to make their own decision about their children’s health status, said Dr. Fagerlin, who is also the chair of the department of population health sciences at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
“It appears that many parents were concerned about their children missing school,” she said. “At the same time, they’re potentially exposing other kids to a serious illness.”
In the survey, parents were asked whether they lied or misrepresented information about their children on seven different COVID-19 topics, including illness and vaccination status and if they followed quarantine protocols. Researchers tallied survey responses collected in December 2021 from 580 parents, whose average age was 36 and of whom 70% were women. Results were published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
Overall, 24% of parents said they lied to people that their children were with while knowing or suspecting the children had COVID. About half of parents cited at least one of the following reasons for doing so: parental freedom, child did not feel very sick, or wanted the child’s life to feel “normal.”
About 20% of parents said they avoided testing when they thought their child had COVID, and parents also reported allowing children to break quarantine rules at a similar rate. More than half of parents who avoided testing said they were worried testing would hurt or feel uncomfortable.
About 4 in 10 parents who lied about their child’s illness status or who lied about whether their child should be in quarantine said they did so because of guidance from a public figure such as a celebrity or politician. At least 3 in 10 said they lied because they could not miss work to stay home with their child.
“We need to do a better job of providing support mechanisms like paid sick leave for family illness so that parents don’t feel like their only option is to engage in misrepresentation or non-adherence to public health guidelines during a future infectious disease outbreak that matches or exceeds the magnitude of COVID-19,” says researcher Andrea Gurmankin Levy, PhD, of Middlesex (Conn.) Community College.
A version of this article first appeared on WebMD.com.