Amidst the COVID-19 chaos, E. Alison Holman, PhD, APRN, FNP, FAAN, Roxane Cohen Silver, PhD, and Dana Rose Garfin, PhD (Co-PIs) have just managed to get 200K from the National Science Foundation to study the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
In December 2019, scientists identified a novel Coronavirus (COVID-2019) that was associated with an outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan, China and that was suspected of being zoonotic in origin. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic, and on March 13, 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency. Because individuals can transmit the illness prior to exhibiting symptoms (i.e., an “invisible threat”), and in the absence of a vaccine for protection, the severity of this crisis and the timing of containment in the United States is unknown. In the context of this uncertainty and ambiguity about the immediate future, our team will study emotional (fear, worry, distress), cognitive (perceived risk), and behavioral (media use, health protective behaviors) responses to the COVID-19 outbreak and how these early responses shape outcomes over time. We will examine how widespread media coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak is associated with acute stress responses to the threat, its success (or failure) in affording people the information needed to understand the threat, and how cognitive and affective processes shape risk assessments, behavioral responses, and mental health outcomes. This project is unique in studying the effects of risk perceptions, health protective behaviors, and acute stress on adjustment as an ambiguous global health threat unfolds.
Our team will examine respondents’ risk perceptions, fear, media use, health protective behaviors, and distress surrounding the outbreak. This project presents an unprecedented opportunity to document predictors of variability in response to the COVID-19 crisis, as well as to examine several significant questions relevant to risk assessment and community response to an unfolding national crisis.
The unparalleled media attention to COVID-19, coupled with the large nationally representative sample with pre-COVID-19 health data, provides the remarkable opportunity to examine adjustment processes in a methodologically rigorous way. Moreover, information collected in this research will advance future conceptual work on coping with highly stressful national threats by (a) furthering our understanding of the extent that traditional and non-traditional media coverage of the COVID-19 epidemic may affect individuals’ risk perceptions and acute stress responses, (b) articulating how ambiguous communication may amplify perceived risk, emotional and behavioral response to a growing health threat, and (c) providing information to facilitate early identification of individuals at risk for subsequent difficulties following potential public health crises.
Finally, findings will help policymakers, service providers, members of the media, and educators design risk communication materials and intervention efforts that are evidence-based, more cost-effective, and more sensitive to the needs of the populace.