[Updated Data] Coronavirus in US Cities: Residents turn their focus to honoring public safety officials and panic buying

Hannah Levenson

Hannah Levenson

COVID-19 has made it harder for local governments to physically hear from their communities, especially at a time when they need their feedback the most. City halls are closed, many local government teams are working remotely, and most community meetings and activities have been suspended or transferred to the virtual realm. Subsequently, “traditional” channels of communication between residents and their local government agencies are no longer available. 

Yet while in-person communication has decreased, another channel is bustling with activity. People are increasingly using social media to raise their concerns and discuss points of interest surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. Social media presents a powerful opportunity for local governments  to listen to their residents. Notably, people are talking about their cities and related concerns/opinions on social media every day, especially in a time when change is constant and the future is unclear. By monitoring the issues that their residents are discussing, local government teams, on the frontlines of this outbreak, can better adjust their communications and budget priorities and initiatives.

Aiming to help local government leaders understand the public discourse, our team at Zencity has been tracking the changes in public online discussions surrounding COVID-19 from week to week since the beginning of March. On a high level, we’ve seen residents’ key concerns evolve every week as the virus touched down in the US and then seeped into every facet of daily life. This week’s research is based on the analysis of over 4.7 million social data points from 130+ US cities and counties, from April 1st-6th and the data has a story to tell.

Our main findings this week include:

  1. Top three concerns remain in place – After seeing weekly shifts in the top concerns for the first three weeks of our research, this week’s data exemplifies some consistency. The top three coronavirus concerns/points of interest have remained dominant  since last week’s report and include: Community Solidarity, Department of Public Safety, Crime and Scams.

     

  2. Support for public safety overshadows concern about crime – in a shift from last week, we see that residents have significantly increased their mentions of support for the public safety departments in this crisis, while reducing conversations about crime and scams.

     

  3. Public online discourse around panic buying has increased by 50% – this topic jumped to become the 4th most prominent concern while growing in volume by 50% over last week.

     

  4. Residents concerned with higher education – A new concern emerged this week, as we complete the first week of April. Residents have begun to actively discuss the topic of exams and graduations ceremonies and how they will be impacted by COVID-19.

Let’s dive into this week’s data a bit further to better understand what the public has to say:

Residents’ key concerns around COVID-19, in numbers:

coronavirus concerns april

As we can see, the top three concerns remain at the lead from last week.  This consistency indicates that people have shifted to a new normal, understanding that the current changes are not a passing event. This data also indicates that local governments need to address these matters with long-lasting initiatives and possible policies. 

Let’s explore what learnings we can draw from these concerns:

Community solidarity remains the top focus in US cities

 The public’s focus on Community Solidarity has maintained its place as the leading topic of conversation amongst residents, and is growing in focus. In fact, since last week’s report, the topic has increased by an additional 2% in the public online discourse, further cementing its status. Guided by community members’ discourse, local governments are in a strategic position to contribute and provide support to residents, by highlighting current initiatives and working to build new ones. Below we touch on some key takeaways from the discourse on this topic: 

  • Main topics of conversation within this category remain the same as last week, with requests for further support for  first responders, like medical staff, police and firefighters, followed by how-to explanations for DIY mask creation, and supply donations. We’ve seen incredible initiatives by cities across the U.S. to support their first responders, including the “Deschutes First Response Fund,” a relief fund to support first responders working the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Deschutes County, OR, and a meal donation drive for first responders and hospital staff members in West Ridge, IL.
  • A lot of residents are actively sewing masks for people in need and discussing it online. We saw some residents even sharing “tutorials” for how to make masks. Many cities and local governments are also actively encouraging the donation of masks by their community members. In a commendable example of community unity, a retired nurse from Geddes, NY, has been sewing hundreds of masks for members of her community, free of charge.
  • Based on the data, residents are also concerned with supply shortages in hospitals and raising funds to support those in need. Discussions about general food donations have decreased over the past week.

Positive interactions between the public safety department and residents overshadow concerns about crime 

 For the third week in a row, operations of public safety departments remain a top interest in the public discourse, rising to 15% (compared to 13% in the previous week). Concurrently, we saw a small drop in conversations around Crimes and Scams. This week residents are mostly discussing public safety in a very positive manner – sharing thank you posts dedicated to local first responders and reacting to social distancing compliant “thank you parades” set up by local departments. We’ve seen many local communities across the U.S. come together to support their first responders. In addition to the recognition of the tireless, ongoing work of the public safety department we dug into a few additional data points below:

  • Many police departments are leveraging this growing attention on social media to actively inform their residents on social distancing guidelines and explain whether or how they will be enforcing stay-at-home orders.
  • Police departments are also utilizing social media to increase community relations by sharing updates on how they are working to keep the safety of residents. For example, the Essexville Public Safety Department has been putting up heart signs on their windows to show their commitment to the community. 
  • While the discourse around crimes and scams have slightly decreased since last week, new topics that are drawing more attention include theft of testing kits.
  • Residents are also showing growing interest in the discussion of prison inmates who are considered for release, either due to positive COVID-19 testing or to avoid fast infection by releasing vulnerable, “low-risk” inmates and reducing transmission rates in crowded facilities. 

Panic buying and associated hoarding become a leading concern

Most notably, we’ve noticed a significant rise in the discourse surrounding panic buying, with an increase of approximately 50% from last week’s report. From the onset of the pandemic, we’ve seen how fear can manifest itself in peoples’ daily activities, mainly by way of panic buying. Additionally, supermarkets and grocery stores have become hazardous spreading grounds for COVID-19, instilling a growing concern for standing in checkout lines in close proximity of others, and requests for more enforcement of social distancing in the stores themselves. Here is how the discourse this past week exemplifies this particular behavior and its impact:

  • Many residents are concerned about the lack of social distancing enforcement in grocery stores and that the risk of infection from visiting these establishments is extremely high. Food stores throughout the country are arming themselves accordingly, installing plexiglass at each cash register in Florida for the safety of both customers and staff. They are also brainstorming new ways to control the distance between shoppers. Kroger, for example, the largest supermarket operator in the U.S., is testing out one-way aisles at some of their stores. 
  • There has also been continuous concern surrounding hoarding by community members, thereby leading to supply and stock shortages. 
  • Local mayors and government officials are urging their citizens to stop panic buying and are utilizing social media to get the message out. Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, CA, stood alongside the leaders of several major grocery store chains, in an act of reassurance to Los Angelinos of their handling of the situation and encouraging people to buy less. 
  • One of the more concerning conversation points, as more cities require residents to wear masks and cover faces, is the confusion around where masks can be purchased (especially considering that many cities are in short supply). 

 

New Topic: Final exams and graduation ceremonies

With May graduation ceremonies around the corner, it seems that stay-at-home orders will have many educational institutions closed for more weeks to come. This has caused colleges and universities nationwide to announce that graduation ceremonies are going virtual. Naturally, the public discourse on the matter has grown throughout the past week, occupying 4% of residents’ online conversations:

  • Online discussions during the past week include concerns about if and how upcoming final exams will be taken, and whether local graduation ceremonies will be held as planned. Some residents have reacted positively to the idea of virtual commencement ceremonies while others have actively called for postponements. 
  • The emerging discourse about exams could also be a result of recent developments regarding university and college admissions for 2021. With the April ACT session postponed and the May SAT test cancelled completely, multiple colleges and universities are deciding to move to test-optional admissions where undergraduate applicants will no longer be required to submit standardized test scores. Institutions converting to test-optional admissions due to the pandemic include the University of California schools and Boston University.
  • Naturally, the online discourse includes some reports of students testing positive for COVID-19, but also surrounds the varied and wonderful ways that students are stepping up to support hospitals and local communities, such as volunteering at call centers and caring for healthcare professionals’ children. 
  • Residents are raising their concerns and criticism towards students who have tested positive for COVID-19, following spring-break trips. This subject has been widely discussed on national news following multiple stories of spring breakers who have returned with the virus and not heeded CDC guidelines.

Wrap-up

Our analysis of nearly 4.7M social media interactions within our 130+ local government partner network from this past week, has shown that the main topics of concern have remained consistent across the board. Another trend that remains the same as last week is the diversity of topics. From support for local businesses and children, online recreational activities and volunteering initiatives, to evictions and job loss – COVID-19 is without a doubt impacting the fabric of society. There is no “returning to normal”. 

Considering the far-reaching impact of this global pandemic, it is imperative that the local government teams not only break through the noise and share actionable information with their residents, but in turn, are able to track and understand the most pressing issues facing their residents week to week.

With that in mind, local government teams should aim to create long standing services and policies that address these consistent concerns. They should also seek out opportunities to collaborate with their vocal, online community on possible initiatives. We’ve seen amazing examples of this across the United States and commend the hardworking women and men in local government for their exemplary efforts during this challenging time. 


To learn more about how our partner cities and counties utilize Zencity to monitor their residents’ concerns even on a daily basis, visit our dedicated COVID-19 action plan.

[Updated Data] Coronavirus in US cities: Residents’ key concerns turn to actions around community solidarity

Hannah Levenson

Hannah Levenson

As the coronavirus new normal sets in and confines people largely to their homes, residents are continuing to utilize a range of social media platforms to voice their concerns/interests related to the outbreak. The public might be practicing “social distancing” in the physical realm, but digitally, they are more “socially interactive” than ever before. 

This online discourse is indispensable for local governments. Why? In addition to the ongoing public health challenges, state lockdowns, and the major lack of emergency equipment, cities and counties- who can no longer meet their community in person- need to be able to quantify and process this online resident feedback as the situation evolves quickly. By monitoring these diverse concerns, local government teams can better adjust services and initiatives according to these “voiced” needs.

This is why our team has been diligently tracking changes in the public online discourse data week to week. As part of our research initiative throughout the month of March, we’ve assessed another week of online public discourse (March 25th -31st)  presented in the analysis below. Since our initiative began in the first week of March, geared at supporting local government teams across the U.S., we’ve tracked over 18M data points across 125+ US cities and counties. From week to week we’ve seen significant changes in the top topics occupying public discourse- which serves as a testament to COVID-19’s far-reaching impact on daily life and confirmed case proliferation. 

What changed week to week?


In the beginning of March, residents’ concerns were more centered around school closures, potential and/or official event cancellations, and public transportation sanitation and transmission risks. This discourse illuminated that residents were beginning to gauge and/or seek out information about how COVID-19 would affect key aspects of their routine. It also shows an underlying fear and uncertainty regarding transmission and social distancing practices.

In the following week, from March 11th to the 17th, we identified a significant focus on the operations of cultural/entertainment establishments (44% of comments), the impact on local restaurants and businesses, and panic-buying. We also saw city-owned social accounts serve as active members in the online discourse, especially in encouraging support for local businesses and establishments, sharing social distancing best practices, and announcements regarding city services and utilities. 

Last week, from March 18th to the 24th, the key topics became even more diversified, highlighting the fact that COVID-19 has communities thinking about the very core of our social fabric, both for the good and the bad. On one end of the spectrum we saw an increased focus on crime and scams (13%) while at the other end- on a more positive note- we saw elevated discussions about new community solidarity and volunteering (12%) initiatives. Residents also discussed new realities such as support for children not in school, “ordering in” campaigns, and logistics associated with utilities and city services.

This week, we saw one key topic lead the pack and new concerns enter the public online discourse; reinforcing the fact that COVID-19 is driving our society to show it’s true colors.

Let’s examine how residents’ key concerns/points of interest have changed over this past week:

coronavirus concerns march 31

We see that while topics are extremely diverse, one topic in particular is clearly dominant. Residents have turned their attention to displays of community solidarity and resilience (20% of the discourse) which ranked as the second top concern last week (16% of the discourse)

In addition to conversations about food donations and fundraising for local residents, residents have turned their attention to support for first responders and healthcare providers. We saw calls for sanitizers, wipes, food, and money for those on the frontlines of the public health crisis. Additionally, considering the significant mask deficiency, residents across US cities have begun to sew face masks for those in need.

While this is an incredible show of strength and character from communities across the country, this is also a key theme that local governments have to be aware of, as there is a real opportunity to cooperate and support communities in their desire to organize and contribute. It is essential for local governments to be aware of these initiatives and their communities’ specific areas of focus, to ensure that their support makes the right impact.

In other themes, we also saw new topics rise to become top of mind, such as a preoccupation with evictions (8%) and logical fears surrounding unemployment (9%). Residents are also actively discussing concerns for those experiencing homelessness (4%). Let’s dive into the noteworthy changes and new concerns that entered the public online discourse this week:

Concerns about Job Loss/Employment 

  • A large portion of the discourse consisted of residents’ concerns about job loss and job security
  • We also noticed a fair amount of posts from particular businesses which shared information about need for additional workers (mostly large retailers and supermarkets)
  • Some cities actively participated in the discourse associated with this concern. We saw some cities’ chambers of commerce social accounts posting and directing residents to job openings and employment assistance

Concerns about Paying Rent/Eviction 

  • Many cities have passed policies that forbid landlords from evicting tenants during the outbreak
  • Many residents have taken to social media to actively call for a rent freeze or rent strike. We also saw a lot of discourse about the subtopic of ‘rent suspension’
  • Anxious and frustrated rhetoric around eviction; lots of calls for action from communities
  • Many residents have actively voiced criticism about proposed policies (eviction ban, freeze on rent increases). We also saw other communities utilizing social media to circulate petitions and discuss online strikes
  • We presume that this topic has increased in discourse volume because our assessment spanned the end of March, when rent is due

Concerns about the Homeless Community

  • Residents are discussing and interacting with city/community-based initiatives to install portable restrooms and handwashing stations
  • There has also been notable concern and discussion about the exposure of the homeless community to the virus and potential solutions for mitigating this risk
  • There has also been increased discussion in the predicted rise of homelessness due to the economic crisis, job loss, and inability to pay rent

Virtual and Online Public Events

  • Many residents are increasingly discussing and engaging with virtual/online events 
  • Examples of quarantine socializing range from dj streams and poker nights to charity concerts and city council meetings

Social Distancing in Parks 

  • There is a discrepancy across US cities in the policies for visiting parks, beaches and recreational sites and residents are actively discussing this inconsistency and related questions online. Some parks are closed, while some remain open. Feedback from residents is mixed as some claim that people are congregating while others feel it’s important to exercise and breath fresh air (keeping in mind the social distancing guidelines and transmission policies)
  • Residents are also confused about what is “allowed” when it comes to outdoor exercise
  • There have also been active calls from community members to enforce social distancing at parks. Some parks have even been closed due to lack of compliance with the CDC guidelines

Additional Points of Interest

  • Operations of public safety departments remains a top interest over the past two weeks. In addition to the discourse we saw in the 3rd week of March we also saw residents discussing increased police patrols to enforce social distancing and disperse gatherings (especially in light of school closures)
  • Support for children is still a key topic, with new discussions bubbling up about how school counselors can support students at this time
  • In addition, we see that concerns for local businesses (4%) is still a discussed topic yet less prominent compared to the week prior, where it ranked as the fourth top concern (11%)

As local governments need to rapidly release new services and constantly share information with their community, we hope that these key concerns could help better inform teams on areas for prioritization this week. Clearly, residents are preoccupied with the repercussions of an economic downturn and are also seeking out community building initiatives. 

We are working closely with our 130+ local government partner network to understand how they can best leverage our platform to help champion their communities in light of the coronavirus crisis. If you want to learn what they are doing and what we can do for your community, click here:

[Updated Data] Coronavirus in US cities: Residents’ key concerns this week are crime, scams and community resilience

Hannah Levenson

Hannah Levenson

As another week goes by, it seems like the world is starting to set into a  new normal, a coronavirus normal. The coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdowns, self-isolation, and school closures have meant that communities need to rapidly adjust to a new way of life. Now more than ever, the public is taking to the internet to share their concerns, needs and quarantine routines and we can look at those conversations to really understand – what’s on their mind. 

Over the last couple of weeks we released reports which analyzed over 8M online data points from the first weeks of March. This analysis highlighted the key concerns of communities in over 100 cities across the US regarding COVID19.

Our goal with these reports was to aid local government teams- the men and women on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak- to efficiently identify their community’s needs and better shape their crisis response, policies, and messaging.

But as the crisis continues to unfold, there is an acute need for updated, relevant data to support these big decisions. And that is why we’re sharing this new, updated version, analyzing 5.7M online interactions from this past week.

While in our previous report we found that residents were most concerned with operations of cultural/entertainment institutions (over 44% of the comments), this week’s data is more diversified, highlighting the fact that COVID-19 has now touched every facet of city life. 

Specifically, we see the leading topics this week touch on the very fabric of society and of residents’ lives, both positively and negatively, making crime and scams (13%) and community resilience and solidarity (12%) take the lead.

Residents Key Coronavirus Concerns (March 18-24)

coronavirus dialogue volume

Before diving into the specific concerns of city residents, let’s take a quick look at how the discourse volume has changed since our previous analysis (March 11-17). After a peak in the discourse last week (specifically on March 16th), the discourse dropped and has remained consistent since. Overall, there was a 15% drop in discourse volume. We presume that this is in part due to the fact that residents have begun to adjust to the new normal amid the pandemic, causing a subsequent drop in online conversations. 

Accordingly, let’s examine how residents’ key concerns/points of interest have diversified over this past week:

 

residents coronavirus concerns

We see that contrary to past weeks, there is no singular issue that is dominating the conversation (such as cultural/entertainment establishments or school closures in past weeks). This indicates that many fundamental uncertainties/fears within a city have been addressed, such as whether schools will remain open, transmission anxieties, and cancelling of public events.

Rather, residents have shifted their focus to discuss adjustments to their routine, potential threats in their transformed day to day, and likely new, permanent changes that will be seen in their community

The leading concerns tell a moving story of the fight to keep the fabric of society together. On the one hand, the leading category (Crime and Scams) shows the security challenges that this new situation brings. On the other hand, the elevated discussions about volunteering reinforces a sense of  hope as communities across cities come together to support ones in need. No one knows exactly what will come, but we do know that society- government, healthcare, the economy, our lifestyles, and more- will change. 

Below is a deeper examination of the new key concerns:

Crime and Scams

  • In some cities, there have been reported cases of violence and abuse, mostly of children, assumed to be triggered by stress and quarantines. This has garnered substantial attention on online channels
  • Alerts about scams, such as people trying to sell fake at-home testing kits for Coronavirus, are quickly circulating within communities
  • There have been many reports of people stealing toilet paper from park restrooms and residents are actively commenting on these updates
  • In California, some people have openly discussed the need to buy guns, while in parallel crimes/rumors of crimes related to the virus have increased (e.g. rumors of burglars disguising themselves as COVID-19 testers )

Community Resilience and Solidarity

  • New community-run initiatives have sprung up across cities such as food donation, mask distribution, and fundraising/volunteer efforts for local businesses. These initiatives have gained a lot of sharing and positive feedback online.  
  • Many community members are discussing ways in which they can actively provide assistance to senior citizens and how some residents are already helping 

Operations of Public Safety

  • Many police departments are sharing online how they strive  to enforce the “shelter at home” order
  • Police departments are also utilizing their channels of communication to share information and/or direct people to the city’s official coronavirus information page. In parallel, we also see many people are turning to the police for answers about coronavirus
  • Police and fire departments are frequently posting about their daily routine and showing how they practice social distancing 
  • Many residents are curious about how they should report noncompliance with city ordinances and what warrants calling 911

Supporting Local Restaurants

  • Posts by cities and/or other local organizations which list open restaurants and encourage residents to support these businesses via ordering, have gained substantial traction within multiple cities. 
  • Many residents are discussing current restrictions on dining out and how to best move to deliveries. Some are also discussing the tougher regulations on takeaway food 
  • Popular campaigns that encourage ordering food, such as #Digitaldining have gained a noteworthy amount of attention from residents

Operations of Entertainment Establishments

  • We see that residents still seeking to understand the operation status of entertainment/cultural establishments

Support for Children 

  • Many residents, especially parents, have taken to the internet to discuss online activities for kids. We also see city libraries and parks departments proactively sharing suggestions
  • A lot of online conversations have been centered around the distribution of laptops for remote learning
  • County communications teams, local organizations, and parents are actively discussing and getting the word out about creative solutions for providing meals to students

 Panic-buying and social distancing at stores

  • There are still reports and online chatter about panic-buying, mostly toilet paper. This discourse is often coupled with ongoing concerns about hoarding.
  • Residents are also concerned with lines in grocery stores and how they fundamentally violate  social distancing guidelines

Economic Impact

  • Reports of price-gouging have caused residents to actively discuss the issue online
  • Many residents are concerned with COVID-19’s economic impact. Updates from Chambers of Commerce in cities are gaining a lot of traction online as well as the promotion of shopping locally 

Operation of City Services

  • Residents are interested in updates from cities about services and how these services might be impacted during this time of crisis
  • They were also particularly concerned with operations of services in light of city hall closures and expressed the need for clarification on how they would pay taxes/utilities/moratorium

Utilities 

  • Posts by city communications that assured residents that tap water is OK to drink gained a lot of traction online 
  • Many cities have proactively requested that residents do not flush wipes (in light of toilet paper shortages) 
  • Cities and residents are also actively discussing guidelines for waste management

As local governments need to shape new policies, support the vulnerable members of their communities, and constantly share information, we hope that these key concerns could help better inform teams on areas for prioritization. Take a look at our updated report that analyzes data from the 25th of March to the 31st.

Zencity also released a short one-pager describing main ways our 130+ partner network leverages the platform in light of the coronavirus crisis. Read more here:

[Updated Data] Coronavirus in U.S. Cities: Residents’ key concerns in numbers

Hannah Levenson

Hannah Levenson

The coronavirus outbreak is completely changing day to day realities across the world, and fast. As more cities announce positive cases, create new policies, and implement different measures, the concerns of their communities change as well. And we can see that manifest itself in online conversations. 

Last week we released a report, which analyzed over 1.5M online data points from the first week of March, and highlighted the key concerns of communities in over 100 cities across the US regarding COVID19. Our goal with this report was to aid local government teams- the men and women on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak- to efficiently identify their community’s needs and better shape their crisis response, policies, and messaging. (See best practices for effective messaging here).

But as the crisis continues to unfold, there is an acute need for updated, relevant data to support these big decisions. And that is why we’re sharing this new, updated version, analyzing 6.5M online interactions from this past week. 

While in our previous report we found residents were most concerned with school closures (over 42% of the comments), this week’s data paints a different picture, and we see noteworthy variations in discourse topics as the COVID-19 becomes the “new normal”.

Residents Key Coronavirus Concerns (March 11-17)

coronavirus online dialogue

First let’s touch on the sheer quantitative growth in online discourse. An underlying difference between our analysis this week versus the first week of March is in the number of online interactions that we analyzed. In the first week of March, we gathered 1.5M data points, while from March 11-17th we gathered over 6.7M interactions about COVID-19. Specifically, we saw a significant peak in online discourse within the last three days of our analysis, from March 15th to the 17th. 

While this is not surprising, it is a dramatic increase. We know that everyone is talking about the pandemic. But what are residents actually concerned with this week aside from the topic of public health? How do residents believe the outbreak will impact their day to day and what are they voicing online? By using topic modeling and clustering, we were able to obtain answers to these essential questions. 

 

coronavirus concerns march 11

As we can see, the main topics of concern changed significantly from last week, with cultural institutions becoming the leading topic, and schools dropping to account for only 11% of the discourse. 

Below we’ve provided a more in-depth analysis of the above graph and essential takeaways on what residents are saying.

Entertainment and cultural institutions:

The most prominent cause of uncertainty and concern within communities across cities was the topic of entertainment institutions, such as museums and theaters, that are cancelling performances and/or closing operations for the time being. Residents also discussed institutions that distributed notices about remaining open. Most residents expressed joy and gratitude towards those particular entertainment institutions and asked whether their operations would be adjusted to accommodate social distancing practices and CDC guidelines. As this topic becomes more of a focus across the U.S., even Insider decided to highlight what some theaters are doing in order to stay open

Festivals and Public Events:

The second major topic of concern for residents in association with COVID-19 was about cancellation of city and non-city run events. Residents also wondered why some events were cancelled why others remained scheduled as planned, and sought out clarification. In some cases (especially when the festivals were poised to have considerable positive impact on the local economy) there was objection and concern about the economic toll that the cancellation would have on the community. Overall, most cancelations were well-received by residents.

Schools:

Now that school closures have become the standard across the U.S., the discourse volume in this category has dropped compared to our first week of analysis. Conversations within the category have also now shifted focus to arrangements for remote learning (access to internet) and initiatives for providing meals to school children. Residents also expressed concerns about children disobeying social distancing and gathering outside of school in groups. Furthermore, many working parents in particular, voiced their worry about access to childcare arrangements. On the flipside, many students voiced their disappointment regarding canceled games and after school activities. Despite residents taking to the internet to share their worries about the impact of school closures on their daily routines, the act of closing schools was generally favored by communities

Local Restaurants and Bars: 

A lot of the online chatter regarding local restaurants and bars consisted of updates about which businesses are operating and offering delivery, curbside pickup, and/or online orders. Many cities are proactively aiding restaurants and bars by advertising that they are still running and even assisting operationally to accommodate the high demand for deliveries and pickups. While dining rooms are closing across the county, boxed meals and inspiring solutions are abundant. In particular, online discourse is proving to be critical in aiding  residents, cities, and businesses get the word out to help salvage restaurants and bars. However, some of that online discourse also consists of young people who do not want to abide by social distancing recommendations and believe that the best way to aid restaurants and bars is to continue to go out in public and support these local establishments.

Panic-buying and availability of goods: 

There’s a science behind panic-buying during an epidemic. As Amy Mckeever of the National Geographic notes, “Panic-buying supplies is one way humans have coped with uncertainty over epidemics since at least 1918 during the Spanish flu—when people in Baltimore raided drug stores for anything that would prevent the flu or relieve its symptoms—all the way up to the 2003 SARS outbreak.” 

“When you’re seeing extreme responses. It’s because people feel like their survival is threatened and they need to do something to feel like they’re in control,” explains Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

Accordingly, with coronavirus uncertainties swarming online we are seeing a continuation of discourse about stockpiling and panic-buying. Yet residents aren’t just expressing “panic” online. Many have taken to the internet in response to the pictures of empty shelves and the fights over toilet paper to discourage their fellow community members from panic-buying and encourage consideration of those who are truly in need of the resources. Police and law enforcement communications also occupied the discourse, with formal warnings to residents about scams by those who are trying to capitalize on public anxiety.

Additional Concerns of Residents:

While the following concerns did not represent a significant percentage of the discourse data, there is a chance that we can see these concerns become more pronounced in the coming week or even in the next few days. Thus, we thought it would be worthwhile to note them below:

  • Closing campuses and dorms – residents actively discussed the topic of arrangements for students that have nowhere to go due to these campus closures
  • A portion of residents had questions about the continuation of city services such as community centers and libraries. Considering these concerns, some libraries for example, have begun to offer online books or wave late return fees
  • Residents were also concerned about the potential shutting off of utilities such as water and electricity. As a result, some local governments distributed messaging emphasizing that they would halt any disconnections or shut-offs for the time being. 

We hope this report aids local government professionals as they work tirelessly to manage the coronavirus crisis in their communities. Be on the lookout for our updated insights for the week of March 18th to the 24th.

Zencity also released a short one-pager describing main ways its 120 partner network leverages the platform in light of the coronavirus crisis. You can read the full resource here:

 

TLDR

From our analysis, we were able to extract these essential takeaways from residents’ online discourse:

  • Speculation about school closures had occupied over 42% of the community discourse in the first week of March and has now dropped to only 11%
  • With school closures having become the new normal, discourse has now shifted to a focus on how to cope with this reality (e.g. access to online learning, meals, and childcare). 
  • There was less of a focus on the sanitation of public transportation and its relation to the transmission of the virus compared to the previous week. We believe that this is due to the fact that many cities have shut down public transportation and that residents have begun to self-isolate/remain at home
  • There is still lack of clarity within communities about the status of events and what is permissible in terms of going out in one’s city (e.g. inconsistency of event cancellation, CDC guidelines for leaving the home).
  • Also, the new restrictive policies to deter transmission have engendered significant distress regarding the economic impact on businesses and individuals. These concerns have sparked helpful initiatives led by the city, other businesses and the community 
  • Overall people have shifted from discussing the dawning of the outbreak and are now more focused on discussing life as it continues against the backdrop of the ongoing crisis: food delivery, family services, going out, making a living, paying bills, etc.
  • At first, the  practice of social distancing had a fair amount of opposition, yet now we see more acceptance of this preventative method, which is reflected in attempts by residents to maintain a semblance of normalcy under this new paradigm.

Diving deeper into residents’ online discourse, Zencity analyzed over 86M social media data points to unveil how Coronavirus has changed the way cities and residents communicate. Discover insights on leading channels, engagement statistics and more here.