Dr. Ronald Yaros, the Director of Ph.D. Studies at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism, has been awarded a $10,000 grant from the UMD Division of Research for his examination of public opinion during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yaros’ project, titled “Tracking Public Risk Perceptions, Media Use and Trust in Government during the COVID-19 Crisis: A National Longitudinal Study Starting with the First U.S. Fatality,” was one of those awarded funds by the Division of Research’s Coronavirus Research Seed Grant Program.
The pilot study led by Yaros was launched immediately after the first virus death in Washington state. The purpose of the project is to now continue measuring the public sentiments, actions and trust as the COVID-19 health crisis evolves in the U.S.
“Thanks to the support from the college and the university, our team is able to continue tracking the evolution of the public’s response to COVID-19 news coverage and CDC information from the first virus death in February through August,” Yaros said. “For communicators, this study will provide insights into the best practices for clearly communicating the risks during an international crisis.”
A diverse sample of 750 people from across the country will be surveyed every two weeks through Aug. 31. The variables to be measured include the public’s perceived risk factors of COVID-19, changes in precautionary actions as the number of cases changes, sources for information about the virus, interpretation of the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statements, and if/how these factors affect the public’s level of trust in government agencies and White House officials.
The initial online survey, conducted March 2, found 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. At that point, more than half (58%) of the participants said they had discussed COVID-19 symptoms, risks and prevention with friends and family.
Participants listed the web (37%) as their primary source for information on the virus, followed by social media (31%), TV (26%), Print (3%), Radio (2%), and family or friends (1%).
The first survey also measured participants’ level of COVID-19 knowledge and their attitudes toward government officials and agencies, both before and after being presented an official informational CDC 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.