Unexpected public health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic: a national survey examining anti-Asian attitudes in the USA

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© 2020, Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+). Objectives: This paper empirically examines whether and how COVID-19 may be activating bias and discrimination toward individuals of Asian descent. Methods: In March 2020, we used a national online survey to collect data from 1141 US residents. Using descriptive statistics and multivariate regression, we estimated the prevalence and COVID-19-related predictors of bias toward people of Asian descent. Results: We found over 40% of our sample reported they would engage in at least one discriminatory behavior toward people of Asian descent. Respondents who were fearful of COVID-19 (b =.09, p < 0.001) and had less accurate knowledge about the virus (b = −.07, p < 0.001) reported more negative attitudes toward Asians as did respondents with less trust in science (b = −.06, p < 0.001) and more trust in President Trump (b =.04, p < 0.001). Conclusions: Public health leaders must confront fear of the virus, improve knowledge, and bolster trust in science as these factors may evoke negative attitudes toward Asians and increase prejudice and discrimination. Specifically, our findings warrant the adoption of public health campaigns that provide health information and build trust in scientific knowledge.