As Covid-19 spread in 2020, people searched for information on the coronavirus, the disease and the pandemic it has caused.
What were the most popular search terms associated with the virus? We can study this using the Google Trends tool.
Google Trends lets you “explore what the world is looking for” via infographics showing the relative popularity of queries sent to the company’s search engine.
A search term with the most “interest over time” scores 100% at its peak in popularity, and different queries (or the same query on other dates) score against that point highest, so 50% means half as popular overall.
The graph below shows the results for five words (the maximum for comparison): “Coronavirus”; “Corona”, a colloquial term for coronavirus or Covid; “Virus”, abbreviation of Coronavirus to designate “the virus”; ‘Covid’ (technically the disease but also used for the pandemic); and “Covid-19” (pandemic or disease).
There are two clear peaks towards the end of January and mid-March, which we’ll intersect with the New York Times pandemic timeline: Both of these dates coincide with January 30, when the World Health Organization declared a “Public health emergency of international concern” and when nations entered containment.
How did people search in different countries? The interest over time for each request is broken down by region (country). For example, the map below shows that Spain was the first to search for ‘Coronavirus’, with the UK in 5th and the US in 17th. Based on the percentages calculated for the five search terms, 45% of queries from the United States were “Coronavirus” and “Covid” was second at 35%.
The words people use change over time, as illustrated by the name of the species behind Covid, which was originally called 2019-nCoV (“n” stands for “novel”) but was later renamed SARS-CoV -2 after scientists recognized its closed relationship with the virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, now known as SARS-CoV-1.
As the graph below from the results shows, 2019-nCoV didn’t last long: searches began in mid-January and peaked later in the month, coinciding with a surge in SARS-CoV -2 in early February which peaked in March and has remained relatively stable since May.
Google Trends is a fun tool and this article has only scratched the surface of how people search for information about the coronavirus, so play around with a few search terms and let me know what you find (@jvchamary on Twitter).
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