Revisiting COVID-19 concerns as they relate to focus group attendance

We have our plans in place to re-open. Do these plans help our participants feel better, worse, or the same about participating in in-person studies?

A short quantitative study among our cohort of respondents from our Q2 launch of this study to re-evaluate their opinions of health and safety concerns when attending small group meetings in today’s COVID-19 climate.

Research design, data collection, and report completed by:
Tyler Jackson, Research Analyst, Strategic Research Associates LLC
Joanne Vega, MBA, Research Director, Strategic Research Associates LLC

The Follow-up Methodology

In May 2020, our Strategic Research Panel of Research Participants was leveraged in a telephone survey to capture past and potential in-person research participants and their willingness to return to in-person studies. Respondents from the panel were asked what would be the best practices in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and what policies they would like to see implemented in our research facilities to maximize their safety and health. For the rest of the report, this survey will be referred to as “Wave 1”.

The demographic goal of the Wave 1 was to survey Washington State residents, split between Eastern and Western Washington, to help us understand the nuanced differences between the opinions of individuals in these different markets and to ensure statistical reliability. We also used managed quotas to balance responses by gender and age within each region.

Wave 1 concluded that almost all respondents, regardless of demographic variations, would be willing to participate in in-person research studies.

In September 2020, the 370 respondents from Wave 1 were sent a follow up online-only survey with questions aimed at reassessing their opinion on in-person studies at our facilities, and questions gauging their overall concern with contracting COVID-19. Questions were re-used for comparison purposes where applicable, and some were added as the regulations on public gatherings have changed since our earlier fielding of this study. Our respondents were also allowed to voice their opinions in open-ended response questions to illustrate their concerns at the individual level. Open-ended questions cannot t be used to come to a statistical conclusion in this study but they will be used as a tool to make our facilities more comfortable. Moving forward, this survey will be referred to as “Wave 2”.

Due to the rules of statistical reliability and the size of subsamples we can achieve with each question, we can state the findings in this report are statistically valid to +/- 10% at 95% confidence.

Executive Summary and Key Findings

The goal of Wave 2 was first to ask about the public’s concern with contracting COVID-19 and compare those responses to Wave 1 and see if there are any statistical differences in the public’s concern with being exposed to COVID-19; second, to see if the public's opinion on participating in in-person studies has changed by asking if their response to questions from Wave 1 were still the same, or if they have changed.

Wave two was sent out to 370 respondents consisting of 4 multiple choice questions and up to 2 open-ended questions. 98 of those 370 respondents completed Wave 2.

96 (98%) people found our safety procedures to have no negative effect on their personal safety while participating in research groups. Our panel, again, overwhelmingly agreed that they are willing to participate in in-person research at our facilities when available.

Our research panel participants' willingness to join in-person studies and focus groups have changed very little since June.

Though we do see a slight decrease in concern (4.5% decrease) among those who were previously “Somewhat Concerned” and an increase of 10% among those who are “Not Concerned at All”. Other concern segments remained stable.

Only 12 of our 98 respondents indicated a change in their opinions. We asked those individuals to “tell us more” about why their thoughts have changed, most responses prompted them to -re-iterate what safety precautions they'd like to see in place.

  • “I am 73, in good health. As we move to cold weather I am less hopeful that numbers will go down or be consistently low to feel comfortable in groups of strangers indoors.”
  • “Everyone tested recently and wearing masks properly would have to be enforced.”
  • “I was really worried about COVID-19 back in the spring. Now I'm less concerned. I'm sure it would be fine if people were 6 feet apart and wearing masks and given individual wrapped snack or beverage items. And have hand sanitizer available.”
  • “In-person (indoor) gatherings of 10 people or less might be okay if masks and distancing are enforced. However, this greatly depends upon how the phase 3 opening is determined. Currently, Spokane County is at over 8% positive test rate. That would generally indicate that we are not testing enough and our numbers are artificially low. I would like to see a positive test rate under 5% with the recommended cases per/100,000 before phase 3. My decision to participate in indoor groups will probably be based on these data points.”
The latest changes in definitions of group size at Phase 3 reopening does not change our respondent's opinion on participating in studies.

Previously, Phase 3 guidance stated that indoor groups of 50 or less were allowable. The latest guidance states that Phase 3 guidance is groups of 10 or less. Only 3 of our respondents indicated that “No” they would not be willing to participate. 88 of our 98 respondents stated “Yes”, they would participate in in-person studies, a near 90% affirmative participation rate.

Our extensive plan of safety procedures eases participant's concerns and reassures them that joining a group discussion is as safe as we can manage it to be.

Based on the feedback we received in Wave 1, and additional recommendations from the CDC we have determined that taking measures like requiring masks, taking temperatures and actively screening all who enter our facilities for COVID-19, having a sanitation team and sanitation station, and ensuring we are not encouraging the re-use of materials or touching surfaces will help ease concerns among participants attending studies and in-person events. 73% of our respondents indicated these practices make them “Feel Better” about participating, and 25% indicated the actions have “No Effect” on their feelings about attending studies.

Detailed findings: question by question review of responses to our study follow up questions

Demographic Synopsis

As mentioned earlier, this survey was an “online-only” follow-up to an earlier survey administered by phone in May 2020. In this survey, demographic questions were not asked as they were tracked back in May and reused in this report for evaluation.

The three demographic segments referred to in question breakdowns are Gender, Region, and Age. Gender breaks down to either Male or Female. The region is categorized as East; those with a 99XXX ZIP code, or West; those with a 98XXX ZIP code. Age discrepancies will be measured by taking the average age of the segment and testing it against the mean, or other segment average ages, to see if there is a statistical difference in ages among the different answer segments.

The demographic breakdown saw no statistical discrepancies among Gender, Region, and Age. Wave 2 breakdowns indicated that here were 54 Eastern Region Respondents and 44 Western Region Respondents. The Gender breakdown showed us that 52 females Completed Wave 2 vs. 46 males. The average age of a Wave 2 survey respondent was 46.12 years old.

Q1: The first question we asked in the survey was:

“To help us establish a baseline, first, how concerned are you today that you may be exposed to COVID-19 when out and about away from your home? This can be anywhere, the grocery store, the park, the mall, etc. Would you say you are VERY CONCERNED, SOMEWHAT CONCERNED, SOMEWHAT NOT CONCERNED, NOT CONCERNED AT ALL, or NEITHER?”

Q1 was asked; first, as a gauge to see how our panel is feeling about contracting COVID-19 at this point in time; second, to compare how their current feelings differ from Wave 1 (this identical question was asked in Wave 1).

In Wave 2, the data showed us that “Somewhat Concerned” was the leading answer, with 44 of the 98 respondents choosing that answer. “Somewhat Not Concerned” and “Very Concerned” both had 18 selections, “Not Concerned at All” had 10 selections while the least picked option was “Neither” with 8 selections. There were no statistical differences among Age, Gender, or region.

In Wave 1 this question was also asked. The distributions of answer selections are as follows:

The percentage distribution of the two waves is similar, with the only statistical difference in “Not Concerned at All” having a significant decrease from Wave 1 to Wave 2. This communicates to us that since May, our panel has decreased in concern of coming into contact with COVID-19.

Q2.1: Their answer to the question:

At Strategic Research, we plan to resume in-person focus groups once our State Department of Health recommends it is safe for groups of 50 or less congregate. Once we can meet again, do you think you will be willing to participate in focus groups? Yes, No, or Maybe?” from Wave 1 was then interested in Q2.1 in Wave 2 as “WOULD BE WILLING TO,” “MAYBE WILLING TO,” and “WOULD NOT BE WILLING TO.”

So the respondents in Q2.1 were then asked:

“When we last spoke with you, you felt that you [INSERT RESPONSE FROM Q2 FROM PREVIOUS ROUND “WOULD BE WILLING TO” “MAYBE WILLING TO” and “WOULD NOT BE WILLING TO”] join an in-person focus group at Strategic Research once our State Department of Health recommends it is safe for groups of 50 or less congregate.

Do you still feel the same, or has your opinion changed?”

Of our Wave, 2 respondents 89 (90.8%) of 98 indicated, in Wave 1, that they “Would Be Willing” to participate in an in-person focus group at our facilities. In Wave 2, 84 (94.4%) of those 89  respondents indicated that they “Feel the Same” and would be willing to participate in in-person research. Of the 89 people that indicated “Would be Willing” in Wave 1, 5 (5.6%) said their “Opinion Has Changed” in Wave 2.

In Wave 2, 8 (8.2%) respondents indicated that they “Would Not Be Willing To” participate in in-person research at our facilities in Wave 1. When those asked Q2.1 in Wave 2 1 (12.5%), respondents answered they “Do Not Know” 3 (37.5%) people “Feel the Same,” and 4 (50%) respondents indicated that their “Opinion Has Changed.”

And in Wave 2, there was 1 respondent that indicated that they “May be Willing to” participate in in-person research. And in wave 2, that person indicated that their opinion has changed.

Here is the complete breakdown: 

This question's response indicates that a large majority of our panel is still willing to participate in our studies. In contrast, those who said they “Would Not Be Willing To”  participate in in-person research in Wave 1 are mixed between feeling the same and changing their mind about participating in in-person research studies at our facilities.

This question clarifies to us that there is no doubt that almost all of our panel would have no problem showing up and participating in in-person research studies.

Q2.2: The respondent was asked:

Originally, we had planned to re-open for in-person studies once the County that our study is in is at Phase 3. Previously this meant that groups of 50 or less can congregate, but new safe start guidelines as of 9/11/2020 put Phase 3 recommendations at outdoor gatherings of 50 or less people as acceptable, as well as non-religious gatherings with no more than 10 people (we assume this to be indoor gatherings).

If we still continue forward with our plan to reopen once the County is at Phase 3, but limit in-room participants to no more than 10 and ensuring 6’ social distancing, do you think you will be willing to participate in in-person studies as soon as possible?”

This question will be used to gauge our panel's feelings on our updated COVID-19 guidelines and their willingness to participate in in-person studies at our facilities.

The results showed us that 88 (87.13%) people responded to this question “Yes”, 10 (9.9%) responded “Maybe” and 3 responded “No”.

The results to this question prove to us that, even with the new guidelines, our panel is still overwhelmingly willing to participate in in-person research studies at our facilities.

Q3: Was an open-ended question provided to those that answered “Opinion has Changed” or “Don’t Know” to Q2.1, or if they answered “Maybe” or “No” to Q2.2. The purpose of this question was to understand the individual preferences of those whose opinions had changed about participation in in-person focus groups at our facilities.

This question will not be used for statistical analysis only for internal review.

Q4: In this question, our respondents were presented the question,

When focus groups resume, we have put in place a basic guideline for safety that we will have in force in our facilities.

Everyone who enters our research facilities to participate in a study will be asked:

  • To wear a mask or face covering that covers both their mouth and nose while inside the space and for the focus group's duration. Those who cannot wear a mask should bring and provide their own safety shield to wear. (Disposable masks are provided for any who do not have one).
  • Sanitize their hands upon entry.
  • Pass a COVID screening with our host who will check to ensure participants do not have a temperature over 100 degrees, have not experienced any symptoms, or have had direct exposure with anyone with COVID for the past 3 days.
  • Asked to remain 6’ apart when congregating in break rooms and waiting areas.
  • Seated 6’ apart when in focus group rooms, rooms have a reduced capacity to ensure that everyone is able to conform to proper social distancing and spacing.
  • To use the single-use materials we provide for the duration of the study (disposable pens, notepads, and stimuli)
  • To bring their own snacks and drinks if the prepackaged items we can provide are not enough (self-serve drink and meal stations are not available).

Does the implementation of the above procedures make you feel better, worse, or have no effect on your feelings of personal safety while participating in focus groups?

The purpose of this question was to understand how our panel would receive our proposed safety guidelines for participants' health and safety.

The results show us that 72 (72.73%) of our respondents from Wave 2 indicated that the safety guidelines laid out for them would make them feel “Better” about in-person research at our facilities. 25 (25.25%) panel respondents responded with “No Effect,” and 2 (2.02%) indicated that our procedures make them fell “Worse” about their personal safety while participating in research studies that are at our facilities. There were no statistical discrepancies between Age, Region, or Gender.

The breakdown is as follows:

The results indicate that a staggering amount of our panel harbors no negative feelings towards our proposed safety measures and procedures. Implementing these safety measures into our research groups will make for a safe environment that will be a catalyst for healthy discussions about the topics at hand.

Q5: This was an open-ended question offered to everyone who took the survey asking all respondents if they had any additional feedback to add to their responses. This was used to cater to individual concerns to make our in-person research as comfortable as possible for our panel.

As the responses are for internal review, this question is not used for statistical analysis.  

Wave 2 Results Summary

In Wave 1, the results communicated to us that our panel would not let COVID-19 deter them from participation in in-person research if proper safety guidelines were followed. Wave 2 followed that same pattern with only three panelists indicating that they would not participate in in-person research if the laid-out safety guidelines were followed.

It is exciting to see that our panel, six months into a global pandemic, is still overwhelmingly willing to be in our in-person research studies. This, coupled with our strict adherence to safety guidelines, will make for a research environment ripe for discussion and candid feedback.

An interesting development occurred in Wave 2 Q1 when those answering “Not Concerned at All” were shown to have a measurable decrease from the same question in Wave 1. This indicates that our panel has a little more concern about being exposed to COVID-19 than they did in May. The interesting part of this development is that the growing concern since May did not show in our question asking about groups specifically in our facilities, which indicates that while the public is more convinced now of the risk of contracting COVID-19, our panel is comfortable with our safety procedures; and that can be confirmed in Q4 with 98% of our panel having no negative reactions to our safety measures.

Confirming that a large majority of our panel is also comfortable in our research setting is the 89 that said they “Would Be Willing” to participate in research studies back in May, 84 (94.4%) still indicated they would participate in research studies today. Also, of the 8 that said they “Would Not Be Willing To” participate in Wave 1, 4 (50%) of them indicated that their opinion has changed. While 8 people is too small of a group to draw any valid conclusions, seeing half of them change their minds since May is encouraging that as our “new normal” with COVID-19 continues, our panel is more comfortable in public settings when safety measures are implemented and followed.  

The results of Wave 1 and Wave 2 show that our panel is willing and eager to be part of research projects if our posted health and safety policies and procedures are followed. Strategic Research will play a role in the success and safety of future in-person research by enforcing those policies.

Have a question or comment regarding these findings? Send us a note.