COVID-19 prevalence and predictors in United States adults during peak stay-at-home orders

Robert Morlock, Amy Morlock, Martha Downen, Sonali N Shah
PloS One 2021, 16 (1): e0245586

BACKGROUND: Early recognition of COVID-19 cases is essential for effective public health measures aimed at isolation of individuals infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-COV-2). The objective of this study was to describe characteristics, self-reported symptoms, and predictors of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection in a community-based sample.

METHODS AND FINDINGS: This was a cross-sectional nationwide survey of adults in the US conducted between April 24 through May 13, 2020. The survey targeted a representative sample of approximately 5,000 respondents. The rate of COVID-19 cases and testing, most frequently reported symptoms, symptom severity, treatment received, impact of COVID-19 on mental and physical health, and factors predictive of testing positive were assessed. Most of the 5,203 participants (85.6%) reported no COVID-19-like symptoms. Of the 747 (14.5%) participants reporting COVID-19-like symptoms, 367 (49.1%) obtained a diagnostic test. Eighty-nine participants (24.3%) reported a positive COVID-19 test result, representing 1.7% of the total sample. For those testing positive, the most common symptoms were dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath/difficulty breathing. Those who tested positive were more likely to report greater symptom severity versus those who tested negative. Severe dry cough, new loss of taste or smell, trouble waking up, living with someone experiencing symptoms, recent international travel, respiratory issues, and reporting ethnicity of Black or African American were predictive of testing positive.

CONCLUSIONS: This study assessed the impact of COVID-19 using community-level self-reported data across the US during the peak of most stay at home' orders. Self-reported symptoms and risk factors identified in this study are consistent with the clinical profile emerging for COVID-19. In the absence of widespread testing, this study demonstrates the utility of a representative US community-based sample to provide direct-reported symptoms and outcomes to quickly identify high-risk individuals who are likely to test positive and should consider taking greater precautions.

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