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A Terrifying Number Of Parents Lied About Their Child’s COVID Status, Study Finds

Parents were dishonest about coronavirus symptoms, quarantine measures and testing guidelines.

Close up of a mother on the phone with a pediatrician while her son is sick and lying in bed with th...
Marko Geber/DigitalVision/Getty Images

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows that around a quarter of U.S. parents lied about their children's coronavirus symptoms, quarantine measures and testing guidelines, almost definitely contributing to the spread of the virus.

The study aimed to examine “the prevalence of misrepresentations of and nonadherence to COVID-19–related [public health measures] by parents regarding their children, their reasons, and associations of individual characteristics with these behaviors.”

Over 1,700 U.S. adults were sampled in the study over the course of December 2021 — right around the time when the Omicron variant was running rampant across the country. In total, 580 parents who had children younger than 18 years old living with them throughout the pandemic were surveyed, with seventy percent of the respondents being women.

The study found about a quarter of parents committed “misrepresentation of and non adherence to COVID-19 recommendations" in at least 1 of 7 COVID-related behaviors, which included exposure, quarantine, vaccination and testing.

The most common behavior reported was “not telling someone who was with their child that they thought or knew their child had COVID-19,” which 24% of parents “who thought or knew their child had COVID-19” admitted to, according to the study.

So, why did 26% of parents decide to lie about certain COVID-related behaviors or not adhere to COVID-19 guidelines?

The most popular reason parents gave was, “I wanted to exercise my freedom to do what I want with my child,” followed by “My child did not feel very sick,” and “I wanted my child's life to feel ‘normal.’”

Others said it had more to do with work/life balance and lack of childcare. Parents did not want their child to miss school, or they could not miss work to stay home and provide care for their kids. Others expressed concern that they or their child could experience judgment from others for being sick.

COVID-19 testing guidelines and quarantine measures were not the only pandemic-related topics that parents bent the truth about. According to the study, parents also reported avoiding getting a COVID-19 test for their child, lying about being vaccinated or saying their child didn’t have to quarantine when they knew they should.

According to the study, some parents reported lying about their child’s age, saying the met age requirements in order to get the vaccine.

Researchers for the study said the results depict how public health measures may have been compromised due to parents lying for their kids, ultimately raising the number of COVID-related cases and deaths.

“Based on our study, it appears that many parents were concerned about their children missing school, and as a parent of three school-aged kids, I can understand that,” senior study author Dr. Angela Fagerlin, the chair of the Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Utah Health, said in a news release.

“Yet, at the same time, they’re potentially exposing other kids to a serious illness. So, it’s tricky because what you might think is best for your child might not be best for other children in the classroom.”

The researchers also acknowledged that further research and data is needed to identify which groups of parents are more likely to misrepresent COVID status, and to work to create support systems for parents to make “nonadherence” less likely.

“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,” study co-author Dr. Andrea Gurmankin Levy, a social sciences professor at Middlesex Community College in Connecticut, said in a statement.

Read the entire study here.