TORONTO -- A new study from researchers at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., found that U.S. COVID-19 patients have engaged in greater rates of concealment regarding their symptoms and social distancing practices, compared to those who are free of the virus.

Through an online questionnaire, researchers surveyed 451 adults of various ages living in the U.S. Participants were asked a series of questions about their physical distancing practices, COVID-19 symptoms and status, whether they’ve been instructed to quarantine, and what they thought about other people who concealed their COVID-19 behaviours.

Researchers found that, among COVID-19 positive participants, one-third had denied having symptoms when asked by others; while 55 per cent reported some level of concealment of their symptoms.

“This study highlights the difficulties in trying to accurately track and prevent the spread of the virus,” co-researcher Alison O'Connor said in a statement. “In accurately tracking COVID experiences and COVID rates during the pandemic, we’re relying on people honestly disclosing this information.”

As of Monday, there were more than 23 million confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide, including more than 800,000 deaths. Health officials from across the globe have been pleading for honesty from their citizens with respect to contact tracing.

Despite repeated warnings and numerous public health campaigns, researchers found that 53 per cent of COVID-19 positive people who participated in the study denied needing to quarantine when asked by others. Those who concealed their own COVID-19 status and behaviours were also less critical of others for doing so.

“It’s important to not necessarily blame people who are concealing this information, but to understand the barriers that are there from preventing them from telling the truth,” O’Connor said.​

While the study focuses primarily on U.S. COVID-19 patients, researchers suggest there could be a similar pattern of dishonesty and concealment among Canadians that could extend beyond the novel coronavirus to other physical and mental health conditions.

Earlier in the pandemic, several doctors in Edmonton spoke out about patients who were putting others at risk by not being honest about their COVID-19 symptoms and travel history. In July, a similar call was made by Hutterite leaders in Saskatchewan who began urging their communities to cooperate with health officials in the fight against COVID-19 after a surge in cases.

“An important next step may be to explore the effect of different pandemic procedures on disclosures to help us to better understand potential differences in lie-telling across countries,” O’Connor said.