The present study aimed to determine the preventive behaviors from COVID–19 and roles of fatalistic beliefs and health belief model constructs in the disease in Golestan province of Iran. The results indicated that rate of adherence to preventive behaviors from COVID–19 was at a desirable level. Preventive behaviors such as observing the etiquette of coughing and sneezing, washing hands for at least 20 seconds, not kissing others, observing at least one meter distance from others, not leaving home except when necessary, not touching nose and face by hands, not taking a mobile phone with us out of house, and washing hands with soap and water as soon as arriving home were at proper levels. Results of a study in Hong Kong also indicated that more than 77 percent of participants reported good health performance for COVID–19 (15).
Gender was an important variable affecting the preventive behaviors, so that women showed better observance than men probably since they had greater motivation for health than men. In studies on breast cancer screening behaviors, the health motivation was confirmed as an independent variable (16–18). In a study by Lau et al. on the pandemic of H1N1 in women and men in Hong Kong, women had better performance than men in the prevention of the disease(19). Moreover, people living in cities showed better performance against the disease than villagers probably due to the difference in their literacy levels.
Perceived barriers and fatalistic beliefs were also inversely related to the preventive behaviors from COVID–19. Therefore, the rate of adherence to preventive behaviors increased by reducing perceived barriers and fatalistic beliefs. However, the impact of perceived barriers was greater than fatalistic beliefs. The perceived barriers are important and effective constructs of the health belief model because the individuals should overcome barriers to behaviour despite their inner desire to engage in preventive behavior. Excessive barriers can be deterrents and prevent the creation of desired health behaviors. In the present study, the participants had fewer perceived barriers to preventive individual behaviors, such as hand washing, but they were strongly influenced by environmental barriers such as shortage of masks, alcohol pads, and disinfectants. Shortage of mask has been observed in most regions of world due to the pandemic of COVID–19(20, 21) (22, 23) and the issue was also observed in the present study. In a recent study in China, shortage of mask in the market was a reason for not using it (24). Providing masks and other disinfectants and overcoming the environmental barriers can be effective in increasing the individuals’ adherence to these preventive behaviors. The existence of high perceived self-efficacy is an important factor in overcoming the perceived barriers; and it was an effective variable in adopting preventive behaviors from COVID–19 in the present study. Self-efficacy is defined as the level of trust and confidence in overcoming barriers to a healthy behavior. According to the health belief model, individuals should have an appropriate level of self-efficacy to overcome barriers to behavior(25).
Fatalistic beliefs constitute a theory based on which people believe that events are controlled by external forces and humans have no power over them and can no longer influence them; and they are considered greatly as barriers to screening and preventive behaviors for cancers. They are more common in poor people, racial and ethnic minorities, and low-literate people (26–31). In the present study, the participants’ fatalistic beliefs were low due to high levels of education and high urbanization. On the other hand, fatalistic behaviors have been studied and confirmed in diseases such as cancer, but COVID–19 is an infectious disease; and the process of its infection, like cancers, is multifactorial and sometimes unknown; and its cause is known to be a single virus. Perhaps this has also contributed to the lack of fatalistic beliefs in the participants.
Perceived benefits were other factors in predicting preventive behaviors from the disease. In other words, the individuals perform better by increasing the perceived benefits. Having perceptions such as effects of regular hand washing, use of personal protective equipment such as masks, and disposable gloves can lead to high perceived benefits, and they are thus strong motivations for taking preventive measures against this disease.
In the study, the perceived susceptibility and severity did not show any significant relationship in predicting the preventive behaviors from COVID–19 despite the fact that the significance level of perceived severity was 0.688 and close to the significance level. In general, the perceived threat construct was an important variable in taking preventive measures, so that the individuals should consider themselves susceptible to this disease and consider the severity of this disease to be dangerous. Unlike the present study, results of a study by Qian et al. in China indicated that the perceived severity was an important predictor of corona prevention behaviors in China(31). Results of a research by Li et al. also indicated that high perceived severity increased negative emotions, higher cellphone use, and caution in COVID–19(32). Furthermore, Kwok et al. investigated the early stages of COVID–19 in Hong Kong and found that the individuals had higher perceived susceptibility and severity of COVID–19, so that 89 percent said that they were at risk for COVID–19 and 97 percent said that COVID–19 had severe symptoms(15). In the above studies, other constructs of the health belief model were not included in the study. Considering two options, I completely agree and agree, in the present study, 70.3% of participants considered themselves susceptible to coronavirus; and 72.6% considered the disease dangerous in the case of its perceived severity. In general, the perceived threat to COVID–19 is greater than H7N9 and SARS in China and Hong Kong(33, 34). Some studies indicate that the individuals, who knew themselves less susceptible to the disease, consider it a severe and dangerous disease(35, 36).
The research had three limitations: first, the data were collected from the digital space due to specific conditions caused by limitations of the disease; hence, it did not allow for random sampling to select individuals. Second, some people such as the elderly or low-income people might not have access to smartphones and not be evaluated. Third, the individuals’ performance was based on self-reporting that should be considered in the data generalization.