One of the fascinating things we're hoping to see researchers explore with our new Covid-19 online news dataset are explorations of how the official governmental narratives have evolved as the pandemic spread globally. For example, while Anthony Fauci today is known as the government's most vocal advocate for "social distancing" and quarantine, this is in stark opposition to his early advice to the nation.
On January 13th he reassured the nation that the virus did not appear to transmit between people, only from wildlife and that "we don't want to get overconfident, but we aren't seeing the international spread we saw in SARS" and thus the American public shouldn't worry about it coming to their shores.
Just over a month later on February 18th, he was doing the rounds of the media pushing back forcefully against concerns that the virus could threaten Americans and that they should take precautions, repeating that the "hypothetical danger" to Americans of Covid-19 is "just minuscule" and that instead the country should focus on the seasonal flu which is a "real and present danger."
Yet even as Fauci was extolling the nation not to worry, pockets of the public were already seeing through the government's reassurances, with one commentator on the above article summarizing the growing mindset succinctly with the prescient words:
Let's face it, it is only going take a scant few infected people walking among us in public places, work place, college, grocery store, doctor's waiting room…to get the virus spreading in our country. I know they mean well when they say not to panic and just wash your hands but the fact is if it does start up in our country we will see similar quarantines and places shut down just like China is doing. So despite their advice, there is no harm to start stocking up on food for at least 2 to 3 weeks, keep some cash on hand, get face masks if you can find any, and just be as prepared as possible in the event it starts here. I'd rather be prepared than not.
Within days Dr. Fauci's tone had reversed completely, changing from dismissing the "just minuscule" risk of a virus that was not spreading between people or countries towards forceful advocating for social distancing, quarantines and other mitigation strategies, at which point his media profile skyrocketed.
As we look back on why the United States was slow to awaken to the dangers of Covid-19, it will be critical for researchers to look beyond the White House, back to the full picture of the messaging from the US Government's medical experts and leadership over time. As the commentator above so perfectly summarizes, for nearly two months the nation's top medical experts like Dr. Fauci publicly dismissed the threat of the virus to the homeland, rather than acknowledge the reality they knew to be coming and encourage the nation to slowly begin preparing for social distancing, quarantine, shortages and the like.
The question of how the official US Government medical narrative shifted over the course of the pandemic is just one of myriad powerful questions we're tremendously excited to see researchers explore with these new datasets!