The word “panic” is being used by some about the public response in the U.S. to the spreading COVID-19 pandemic; but a new UMD Philip Merrill College of Journalism survey found participants' concern about their risk of contracting the new coronavirus was much more moderate.
In an online national survey of 750 participants between the ages of 18 and 76 conducted March 2, respondents rated their risk of contracting the virus at 2.3 on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest risk. Their rating for being prepared averaged 3.6 with more than half (58 percent) of the participants said they had discussed with friends and family COVID-19 symptoms, risks and prevention. Thirty-nine percent were buying more food and supplies, 38 percent said they discussed “staying at home” plans with employers, and 30 percent were stocking up on medications. Only 17 percent reported subscribing to web sites, emails or text alerts for virus updates.
The lead researcher, Philip Merrill College of Journalism Associate Professor Ronald Yaros, said, “It was interesting to see that television was not among the top two sources for information about the virus.” Participants listed the web (37 percent) as their primary source,, followed by social media (31 percent), TV (26 percent), Print (3 percent), Radio (2 percent) and family or friends (1 percent).
The study also measured participants' level of COVID-19 knowledge and their attitudes toward government officials and agencies, both before and after being presented with an official CDC informational statement on COVID-19. The overall level of COVID-19 knowledge increased only moderately after they read the CDC statement, while perception of government agencies turned more negative.
According to Yaros, these findings may be explained by the relatively low level of agreement of 2.2 [on the 1- 5 scale] with, "The CDC statement did a good job explaining the risks and how the virus might affect you."
After seeing the CDC statement, there was a drop in participants' agreement with, “Government officials care about the personal welfare of people like me.” It decreased from 3.1 to 2.7.
Participants' agreement with, “I trust our government agencies to protect me from the risks of the coronavirus,” also decreased, going from 3.0 before reading the CDC information to 2.8 afterwards.
However, agreement with, “White House officials are doing a competent job of protecting people from the coronavirus,” changed little after reading the CDC statement, going from 2.9 to 2.96.
Yaros says the plan is to repeat the study at regular intervals to look at changes in public attitudes as the spread and impacts of the virus change.