COVID-19 Information-Seeking and Prevention Behaviors in Florida, April 2020

Justine Gunderson, PhD; Dwayne Mitchell, DrPH; Keshia Reid, PhD; Melissa Jordan, MS, MPH


Prev Chronic Dis. 2021;18(2):e17 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Introduction: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) surveillance can be enhanced by collecting population-level data on individual prevention measures. We described the use of a state-based, population-level surveillance system on COVID-19 prevention and information-seeking behaviors in Florida during the first month of survey administration.

Methods: Beginning in April 2020, respondents of the Florida Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System were asked a series of 8 questions about sources of COVID-19 information and prevention behaviors. We analyzed the prevalence of information-seeking and prevention behaviors among respondents who answered at least 1 of the 8 questions (N = 1,004) overall, by demographic characteristics, and by the presence of chronic conditions.

Results: Most respondents reported engaging in prevention behaviors, including handwashing (98.2%), reducing or avoiding travel (96.6%), avoiding crowds and public events (96.5%), and keeping household members at home (87.5%); however, the prevalence of prevention behaviors varied significantly by age, sex, and education. The most frequently reported source of COVID-19 information was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website (40.8%) followed by the Florida Department of Health's website (32.9%). We found significant differences in information sources across all demographic and chronic condition subgroups. A larger proportion of respondents with chronic conditions (vs without chronic conditions) reported consulting their personal doctor for COVID-19 information.

Conclusion: Understanding the uptake and characteristics associated with individual prevention and information-seeking behaviors at the population level facilitates COVID-19 response efforts. The rapid implementation of COVID-19–related questions in the Florida BRFSS provides a useful model for other population-based surveillance systems.


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infectious respiratory illness caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). COVID-19 was first identified in mainland China in December 2019 and rapidly spread to other countries and territories, including the United States.[1] By late May 2020, the number of reported cases in the United States approached 1.7 million and the number of deaths surpassed 100,000.[2] Trends in the number of reported cases, laboratory tests, hospitalizations, and deaths are continuously updated by national, state, and local surveillance systems to monitor transmission of COVID-19. Although these data are critical in forecasting disease incidence, they do not characterize population-level prevention and information-seeking behaviors. Effective management of infectious diseases largely depends on community members staying informed and engaging in everyday preventive actions, such as social distancing.[3]

To enhance COVID-19 surveillance in Florida, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) used the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) to conduct a population-based assessment of COVID-19 information-seeking and prevention behaviors starting in April 2020. The inherently flexible nature of the BRFSS survey instrument allows states to quickly gather data on urgent public health issues, as evidenced by successes monitoring influenza-like illness during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, vaccine shortages during the 2004–2005 influenza season, and mosquito-bite prevention behaviors during the 2016 Zika virus outbreak.[4–6] The objective of this study was to describe the implementation and analysis of COVID-19 questions in the Florida BRFSS and summarize findings from the first month of survey administration.