Infectious disease outbreaks, such as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), create significant distress for the public and strain health care systems tasked with caring for affected individuals and containing the disease. Fear and uncertainty heavily influence public behaviors (1). Concerns focus on personal and family safety, inability to distinguish the new disease from more established and benign illnesses, potential for isolation and quarantine, effectiveness of treatments being used, and trust in institutions responsible for managing the response.
Adverse psychological and behavioral responses to infectious disease outbreaks are common and include insomnia, reduced feelings of safety, scapegoating, increased use of alcohol and tobacco, somatic symptoms (physical symptoms, such as lack of energy and general aches and pains), and increased use of medical resources (2). While media can be a useful tool for sharing knowledge, it also enables rumors and conspiracy theories to be amplified, which can distract public attention from accurate sources of information, reduce participation in health-promoting behaviors, and further community divisions (3). Distress about the infectious disease outbreak is often increased by exposure to traditional and social media content, which is often sensational in nature and may contain misinformation (4).