News Release

University of Minnesota researchers show variety of factors contribute to mothers ability to reduce transmission of COVID-19

Doctor speaking with patient
Photo by University of Minnesota Medical School

Mothers from diverse backgrounds did not feel in control, were unsure of how to follow public health guidance and felt disconnected from family and friends during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to University of Minnesota Medical School and School of Public Health research published in the Journal of Communication in Healthcare.

These factors influenced mothers ability to adhere to public health recommendations such as masking and social distancing designed to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. 

The qualitative research focused on understanding the lived experiences and perceptions of the public health recommendations intended to limit the transmission of COVID-19 among mothers with young children. The study found that public health messaging can be strengthened by using strategies to help people feel in control, understand exactly what to do and how to do it and increase community connectedness. 

“Decades of behavioral research has taught us that for individuals to sustain a behavior, like wearing a mask or maintaining social distancing, we have to have three innate needs met,” said Katie Loth, an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School and an author on the study. “We have to feel in control of our actions; we need to have the skills to do the behavior; and we have to feel like we belong and have a connection with others.”

These three needs were not met by mothers with young children during the pandemic, Loth said. Mothers felt high levels of uncertainty and confusion. They didn't know who to turn to for help or were unsure of available resources. Lastly, social distancing impacted feelings of connection with friends and family. These factors negatively influenced mothers' adherence to recommendations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Loth and Katherine Arlinghaus, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health and first author of the study, have the following l public health recommendations after completing the study:

  • When communicating with the public, focus on the actions individuals can take to social distance and provide options within the constraints of social distancing.
  • Provide concrete examples of the recommendation (ex. a grocery cart is about six feet, so make sure to keep a grocery cart between you and the next person at all times when shopping).
  • Provide community-based information on how to obtain the resources needed to follow recommendations.
  • Be transparent that guidelines may change as more is learned as science evolves about the pandemic in this unprecedented time.

The study was funded by the University of Minnesota Clinical and Translational Science Institute, Children’s Minnesota, the University of Minnesota Department of Pediatrics Child Health COVID-19 Collaborative Grant and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Dr. Loth’s research was supported by the National Institutes of Health Institute of Child Health and Human Development. 


About the University of Minnesota Medical School

The University of Minnesota Medical School is at the forefront of learning and discovery, transforming medical care and educating the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and faculty produce high-impact biomedical research and advance the practice of medicine. We acknowledge that the U of M Medical School, both the Twin Cities campus and Duluth campus, is located on traditional, ancestral and contemporary lands of the Dakota and the Ojibwe, and scores of other Indigenous people, and we affirm our commitment to tribal communities and their sovereignty as we seek to improve and strengthen our relations with tribal nations. For more information about the U of M Medical School, please visit

About the University of Minnesota School of Public Health

The University of Minnesota School of Public Health improves the health and wellbeing of populations and communities around the world by bringing innovative research, learning, and concrete actions to today’s biggest health challenges. We prepare some of the most influential leaders in the field, and partner with health departments, communities, and policymakers to advance health equity for all. Learn more at

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