COVID-19 Severity Influences Prevention More
Than Fear of Getting It 

It is daunting to think that there could be another pandemic in this lifetime. Understanding and documenting behavioral aspects during the COVID-19 pandemic will help to better prepare society for the next one.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic and prior to the development of vaccines, various prevention measures were recommended by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to inhibit the spread of the virus. In April 2020, researchers from  Florida Atlantic University  conducted a study to explore the influence of perceptions of COVID-19 on these prevention practices.

The study sample included 719 members of a public social-media group focused on providing updates and information on COVID-19. Participants completed an online survey that included items associated with the Health Belief Model, a tool used to help predict health behavior, and various aspects of COVID-19, which included experience, perceptions and 10 prevention practices recommended by the CDC and WHO. Perceptions of COVID-19 included participants’ perceived susceptibility or risk of contracting the virus. Perceived potential severity if they contracted COVID-19 related to their concerns regarding the seriousness of the virus and resulting consequences.

Results, published in the  Journal of Community Health   ,  revealed that while much of the media and policy makers have promoted the susceptibility of COVID-19 such as the number of cases, this study showed that it is potential severity that has a stronger influence on prevention practices.

In addition, a moderation analysis revealed no interaction between perceived susceptibility and severity. Successful behavior change in prevention practices due to emphasis on severity is not dependent on emphasis on perceived susceptibility. To optimize prevention practices, the study provides evidence that public health education programs should emphasize the potential severity of COVID-19 over the potential susceptibility of contracting COVID-19, without concern that the relationship depends on the alternative variable.

“In order for the public to adhere to prevention measures that were recommended early in the pandemic, they needed to understand the purpose and value of these measures to be persuaded to comply, which involves behavior change,” said  Michael A. DeDonno, Ph.D., senior author, a research psychologist and an associate professor, research methodology, FAU’s  College of Education. “Behavioral changes are influenced by the perception of the challenge – in this case – COVID-19. To improve adherence to prevention practices, it’s important to understand factors that may influence adherence.”

To assess prevention practices, researchers used a survey that included a 10-item prevention practices questionnaire. At the time of this study, the CDC and WHO were promoting prevention practices that included staying home, limiting socializing, social distancing, washing hands, using hand sanitizer, cleaning surfaces, limiting trips to public areas, and wearing a mask. Therefore, the assessment of prevention practices included the summation of these 10 items.

Among the findings of the study showed that:

  • Nearly 73 percent of the participants self-reported above average knowledge of COVID-19; 26.2 percent reported average knowledge; and only 1.1 percent reported below average knowledge;
  • For example, 88.2 percent were aware that the recommended time to wash hands is 20 seconds; 85.8 percent were aware that the distance for social distancing is 6 feet; and 85.5 percent correctly identified onset of symptoms from two to 14 days;
  • Relative to susceptibility, 6.3 percent of the participants said they were “very unlikely” to contract COVID-19; 45.7 percent said they were “unlikely” to contract COVID-19; 39.6 percent said they were “likely” to contract COVID-19; and 8.5 percent said they were “very likely” to contract COVID-19;
  • Relative to the potential severity of contracting COVID-19, only 14.9 percent of the participants reported that it would “not at all be serious;” 43.1 percent said it would be “somewhat serious;” 25.2 percent said it “would be serious;” and 16.8 percent of the participants reported that the severity “would be very serious.”

“Healthcare educators and community leaders should consider emphasizing the severity of COVID-19 including post-COVID-19 conditions known as long COVID such as weakness and respiratory issues like a lingering cough that can persist for weeks or even months after being infected. This increased emphasis on the severity of COVID-19 could lead to increased prevention practices,” said DeDonno. “Importantly, to inhibit the spread of future viruses leading to a pandemic, it may be prudent to further build relationships between social scientists, healthcare researchers and marketing researchers because this goes beyond psychology, healthcare and marketing, and into the realm of behavioral health marketing.” 

Study co-authors are  Joy Longo, Ph.D., an associate professor and assistant dean of undergraduate programs, FAU  Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing; Ximena Levy, M.D., director, FAU  Clinical Research Unit; and  John D. Morris, professor emeritus, FAU College of Education. 




Program Matches FAU Military Veteran Students with Shelter Dogs

Lenny Polidor wanted a dog for most of his life. Now thanks to a new program at Florida Atlantic University, the third-year exercise science major will have his wish granted. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Polidor, 26, is the first FAU student to participate in the “FAU Veteran Canine Rescue Mission” in collaboration with the  Humane Society of Broward County  and  Happy With Dogs.

Recently launched through a generous gift from the Phil and Susan Smith Family Foundation, Susan A. Smith, and the Phil Smith Automotive Group, the FAU Veteran Canine Rescue Mission program matches FAU student veterans and alumni veterans with dogs from the Humane Society of Broward County, which will be trained by Happy With Dogs as either for service, emotional support or companionship. The program, which also includes a research component on the human-canine bond, will serve as a resource for more than 1,300 military and veteran students currently at FAU.

Polidor recently met his match, Lena, a 3-month-old American bulldog, lab mix who was born at the Humane Society of Broward County, when her pregnant mom was surrendered to the shelter. It was “love at first sight” and the two have since connected and bonded through the adoption and training process.

“I have a lot on my plate with college and working in security, which creates a lot of stress in my life,” said Polidor. “This program is designed to address my stress and mental well-being and Lena is going to help me manage my life more effectively. More importantly, I hope that my participation in the Veteran Canine Rescue Mission program will bring awareness to other FAU veteran students who may need help.”

Housed within Canines Providing Assistance to Wounded Warriors®  (C-P.A.W.W.   ®) in FAU’s  Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, the FAU Veteran Canine Rescue Mission also is collaborating with FAU’s  Military and Veterans Student Success Center  to ensure students have the tools required for a smooth transition to civilian and academic life. For 11 consecutive years, FAU has been recognized as a Military Friendly® School. 

“This program will decrease the number of shelter dogs in our community and provide a non-pharmacological therapeutic intervention for our veteran students who need support,” said  Cheryl Krause-Parello, Ph.D., a professor, interim associate dean for nursing research and scholarship, director of C-P.A.W.W., and a faculty fellow of FAU’s Institute for Human Health and Disease Intervention (I-Health). “Our research shows that having a dog can be a lifeline for veterans struggling with reintegration into civilian life and living with psychological and cognitive wounds. We have shown that just walking with a dog can decrease the severity of veterans’ post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and reduce stress in the shelter dog, making this work all the more vital.”

Located in Fort Lauderdale, the Humane Society of Broward County advocates for and improves the lives of animals by providing adoptions, community services and education.

“Matching veterans with animals is extremely important to us and is an extension of fulfilling our mission to meet all of the needs of our community,” said Mary Steffen, senior vice president of operations, Humane Society of Broward County. “We are so excited to partner with FAU and Happy With Dogs on this exceptional program. Seeing how Lenny connected with Lena at our shelter was incredibly heartwarming. They have saved each other.” 

Following a 10-day training retreat with U.S. Marine Corps veteran Rebecca Pasko, 32, founder of Happy With Dogs, a training, boarding and daycare facility in Miami, Lena is now home with Polidor and continues with in-home training sessions with Pasko.

“I’ve been training dogs since I was 8 and I have seen how they can be such special companions in ways that humans cannot be,” said Pasko, who served in the marines from 2008 to 2012 and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 and Djibouti, Africa in 2010. “As a veteran with PTSD, my own four dogs including one service animal have enabled me to live a normal life. I truly believe that dogs can help people and I’m thrilled to be part of this important program.” 

Duration of the training with Pasko depends on whether the dog will be a companion, emotional support, or service animal. Lena is currently being evaluated to determine if she has the temperament to be a service animal. Either way, Lena will be Polidor’s ‘fur-ever’ companion.

FAU researchers in the College of Nursing, Krause-Parello and  Beth Pratt, Ph.D., an assistant professor, and the  Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work  within FAU’s  College of Social Work and Criminal Justice,  Christine Spadola, Ph.D., an assistant professor, are studying how dogs improve veterans’ well-being, discovering how working with and adopting dogs can treat their invisible wounds of war and are advancing policies that support the therapeutic use of animals.

“We are extremely grateful to the Phil and Susan Smith Family Foundation, Susan A. Smith, and the Phil Smith Automotive Group and our program collaborators who all share our vision, which is the first step toward building a model that has the potential to be a gold standard for national replication,” said  Safiya George, Ph.D., dean, FAU Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing. “C-P.A.W.W. has years of experience, published research articles, and proven data to support its mission and outcomes. It also is the only university-based program of its kind nationally – a scalable model – that could have a tremendous impact and reach beyond South Florida.” 

Polidor, who also is a bodybuilder, plans to include Lena – a great match for his level of physical activity – in his various workout routines including long runs.

“I know that I’m going to have to work out with Lena and keep her active. She’ll keep me on my toes and we’ll motivate each other,” said Polidor.