APCO: Americans United, Divided on Virus

When the coronavirus odyssey began taking hold in the U.S., guidance to PR pros was relatively simple: show concern for employees and external stakeholders, communicate facts only, do so often and accurately, be consistent with messaging, rely on experts for medical information and don’t panic.

At the time many assumed that medical science would supply a uniform message. Brands would relay it. That’s seems a quaint thought now.

For example, some medical professionals believe it’s fine for patients to continue to go to germ-y places like a health club; to others, they're petri dishes for the virus.

250 or 1,000?

It’s hard to know whom to believe and which directions to follow. Some states, like Washington, the U.S. virus epicenter, are banning gatherings of 250 or more people. For other states and towns, the ‘magic’ number is 1,000 people. The mayor of Washington, D.C., for example, today urged “non-essential” events with 1,000 people or more to shutter.

The president has said often the virus will "end quickly." One of his chief scientists, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told a congressional hearing today things will get worse, perhaps a lot worse.

As you will see below, this eclectic pastiche of information has resulted in a somewhat divided populace. Communicators should tailor messages accordingly.

United and Divided We Stand

First, the good news. Nearly all Americans (90 percent) view the virus as “serious,” an APCO Worldwide survey of 1,000 adults shows. Less cohesive are views about contracting the virus. A total of 60 percent is “worried” about getting coronavirus, 40 percent is “not worried” and 24 percent is “extremely worried.” The survey was conducted March 5.

Virus concern is based on economics, APCO says. For example, 83 percent of high earners ($150,000+ per year) see the virus as “extremely” or “very serious.” Those earning $50,000 and below are less likely to see COVID-19 as serious: just  63 percent see it as “extremely” or “very serious.”

National news media is the leading source of virus information (58 percent), besting the CDC (28 percent) and social media (27 percent). The White House (10 percent) and employers (8 percent) are the least common sources of information. Only about a quarter of workers expect to hear messages from company leaders (27%) related to COVID-19.

There’s also a geographic difference. People in the Northeast see the virus as most serious (76 percent see it as “extremely” or “very serious”), with Midwesterners seeing it as least serious (58 percent as “extremely” or “very serious”).

This article is part of PRNEWS' daily COVID-19 coverage, click here to see the latest updates.