Experiences with public health recommendations for COVID-19: a qualitative study of diverse mothers with young children in the United States

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Background: Despite the increased availability of vaccines, masking and social distancing remain important strategies to mitigate COVID-19 transmission. This qualitative study aimed to understand experiences navigating public health recommendations to slow the spread of COVID-19 among economically and ethnically diverse mothers with young children. Methods: Mothers of preschoolers (n = 25) were recruited from Project EAT 2010–2018 (Eating and Activity over Time) longitudinal cohort. Participants completed a virtual semi-structured interview about their experiences during COVID-19. Interview transcripts were coded using deductive and inductive content analysis and analyzed using thematic analysis to identify themes. Results: The first identified theme, ‘Selective adherence to recommendations’ included subthemes highlighting how social distancing was more challenging than mask wearing, family and children were primary reasons for reduced adherence, and concern for the wellbeing of others influenced adherence. The second theme, ‘Personal experiences and relationships were important determinants of perceived severity of the virus and critical aspects of desired support,’ included subthemes on feelings of uncertainty, personal experiences with the virus, and desired community supports. Participants felt stressed and confused about what information to trust. Personal experiences with COVID-19 influenced perceptions of its seriousness, and mothers were more confident about following recommendations when they them from trusted medical professionals and desired for communities to work together. Conclusions: How findings among this diverse population of mothers can help inform future public health messaging and policies throughout the remainder of this pandemic, its aftermath, and future public health emergencies, in which masking and social distancing will be needed, are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)64-73
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Communication in Healthcare
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the University of Minnesota Clinical and Translational Science Institute (NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award: UL1TR002494), Children?s Minnesota and the University of Minnesota Department of Pediatrics Child Health COVID-19 Collaborative Grant (PI: Katie Loth), and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, award R35HL139853 (PI: Dianne Neumark-Sztainer). Dr. Loth?s time was supported by the National Institutes of Health Institute of Child Health and Human Development, award K23HD090324-02. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health Institute of Child Health and Human Development or the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The authors would like to acknowledge Kristin Norderud who was a graduate student who helped do a number of interviews and assisted with data analysis. The authors would also like to acknowledge the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health Research Services Hub at the University of Minnesota for their support.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • COVID-19
  • health communication
  • life stress
  • masks
  • preventative medicine
  • social distancing
  • Public Health
  • Pandemics
  • Humans
  • Child, Preschool
  • Mothers
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • United States/epidemiology
  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Female
  • Child

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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