Social inequalities in protective behaviour uptake at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic: results from a national survey

Publication type
Journal article
Blair A, Parnia A, Shahidi FV, Siddiqi A
Date published
2021 Aug 01
Canadian Journal of Public Health
Open Access?

OBJECTIVES: We aimed to assess social patterns of handwashing, social distancing, and working from home at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, and determine what proportions of the overall prevalence and social inequalities in handwashing and social distancing are related to inequalities in the opportunity to work from home, to guide pandemic preparedness and response. METHODS: Using cross-sectional data from the Canadian Perspectives Survey Series, collected between March 29 and April 3, 2020, among Canadian adults (N=4455), we assessed prevalence of not working from home, social distancing in public, or practicing frequent handwashing, according to age, sex, marital status, immigration, education, chronic disease presence, and source of COVID-19 information. Multivariate regression, population attributable fraction estimation, and generalized product mediation analysis were applied. RESULTS: Absence of frequent handwashing and distancing was more common among those working outside than within the home (prevalence differences of 7% (95% CI: 4, 10) and 7% (95% CI: 3, 10), respectively). Inequalities in handwashing and distancing were observed across education and immigration status. Over 40% of the prevalence of non-uptake of handwashing and distancing was attributable to populations not being able to work from home. If all worked from home, over 40% (95% CI: 8, 70) of education-based inequalities in handwashing and distancing could be eliminated, but differences by immigration status would likely remain. CONCLUSION: For pandemic response, both workplace safety initiatives and mechanisms to address the inequitable distribution of health risks across socio-economic groups are needed to reduce broader inequalities in transmission risk