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COVID-19: Many Kept Traveling Despite Showing Symptoms, Study Finds

COVID-19 travel advisory
COVID-19 travel advisory Photo Credit: State of Connecticut

Despite showing COVID-19 symptoms, many Americans continued to travel normally during the pandemic, according to a new study.

Researchers from George Mason University reported that they found “no real change” in daily activity, travel, and contact with others during the pandemic, even from those who showed signs of potentially contracting the virus.

A team from the university’s College of Health and Human Services tracked the movement patterns of nearly 200 volunteers who showed possible COVID-19 symptoms. Of those being evaluated, few did anything to limit their daily movements, even when displaying warning signs of the virus.

“We could not detect any significant change of movement when people should self-quarantine,” Dr. Janusz Wojtusiak, who led the study, which was published in the Journal of Healthcare Informatics Research, said.

“On the other hand, some people almost did not leave home since the beginning of the pandemic, while others move freely around.”

Participants of the study used the Mason COVID HealthCheckTM to record symptoms of possible COVID-19 infection and GPS and WiFi data to provide information on how they move during the pandemic.

That allowed researchers to model and predict movements during the pandemic and in conjunction with any reported possible COVID-19 symptoms.

“By tracking individual movements and symptoms in our study, our findings could help inform effective public health interventions to reduce COVID-19 infections,” Wojtusiak said.

Headaches were the most frequently reported symptom, and a headache was always listed as a symptom when any other symptoms were reported. Other commonly reported symptoms were coughs and sore throats.

Movement patterns varied among participants, Wojtusiak said, with some only going out for essential trips while others moved about more. As a group, movement was consistent during the study, which included a period when Virginia - where George Mason is located - was under a stay-at-home order and when it was not.

Participants traveled a total average of 139 miles per week, visiting an average of fewer than six locations per week.

“This low average mileage and number of sites visited does suggest that COVID-19-related restrictions affected their movement,” researchers noted. “However, they also found that even when participants reported symptoms of COVID-19 or contact with others with COVID-19, they did not change their movements as recommended by public health guidance.”

The complete study in the Journal of Healthcare Informatics Research can be found here.

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