American Reaction Mirrors Italy’s as Coronavirus Surges


March 20, 2020


Italy’s struggles limiting the spread of coronavirus necessitated a nationwide lockdown, in effect through early April, while South Korea’s early action enabled the virus to be largely contained. As the spread of COVID-19 intensifies in the United States, Predata’s data indicates that the U.S. public is reacting in ways that more closely resemble reactions in Italy than those in South Korea.

When reported cases in Italy surged at the end of February—after Predata had noted increasing Italian-language attention to coronavirus—Predata’s Italian-language Pandemic Preparedness Index, covering themes such as hygiene and necessary medical supplies, and Pandemic Pessimism Attention Index, covering themes including medical or disaster response conspiracy theories, hypochondria, and common psychological disorders, surged, nearly quadrupling between February 20 and February 24.

When cases surged in South Korea, Predata’s Korean-language Preparedness Attention Index increased five times between February 16 and February 20. But in contrast to Italy, the Pessimism Attention Index did not budge, remaining well within its normal range over the past five years.

Both the English-language Preparedness and Pessimism Indices began to rise rapidly following President Trump’s March 11 Oval Office address, in which he announced the suspension of travel from Europe.

Since then, the trend has only intensified. Attention to U.S. public health authorities such as the CDC and FDA has been declining over the past four days, while attention to U.S. health and disaster response conspiracy theories has continued to climb. In fact, on March 18, a page about the FEMA camps conspiracy theory received 633 more views than a page on the CDC.

In contrast to the United States, the reaction in France, Germany, and even Russia appears to match South Korea more closely than Italy. For Spanish- and Portuguese-language audiences, which straddle both Europe and Latin America, both the Preparedness Attention Index and the Pessimism Attention Index have been on the rise, indicating continuing risks ahead.

Predata will continue monitoring these risks as they develop. Contact us to explore these signals and others available in the Predata platform to stay on top of global risks and to be better prepared for what’s next.