The COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge of academic publications in medical journals in early 2020. A concern has been that the methodological quality of this research is poor, due to the large volume of publications submitted to journals and the rapidity of peer review. The aim of the present study was to examine the COVID-19 papers that appeared in 15 top-ranked generalist public health journals in 2020. The COVID-19 related publications contributing to each journal’s h5 index were identified and the following data were collected: publication type (research report versus nonresearch); number of citations; length of peer review; registration of the study; and type of study design. Of 962 articles that contributed to the journals’ h5-index scores 109 pertained to COVID-19. Three journals accounted for about 70% of the total COVID-19 articles and the subgroup of 74 research reports. Two journals accounted for 18 of the 25 research reports, with over 200 citations. Nearly two-thirds of research reports were cross-sectional surveys (mostly using convenience samples), narrative reviews or analyses of internet data. Median time in peer review was 21.5 days. Only one study was registered. Dissemination of research that has undergone insufficient peer review can lead to misguided public health practice.

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Handling Editor: Ludo Waltman

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