COVID-19: Overcoming conflicting information

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has been met with uncertainty and fear in the United States as well as globally. People are searching for answers and find themselves receiving conflicting information due to the wide range of available resources and the rapidly changing information available from health care providers. Some of the more frequent questions include*:

  • Do I need to wear a face mask?
  • Should I get tested?
  • Where can I get tested?
  • What steps can my family take to reduce the risk?
  • Where should I go for the latest information?

People have been spending more time at home than ever, meaning they have constant access to the news via television, phones and other devices. There also is a surge of social media use during this time, and with that comes all kinds of conflicting and uncertain information.

While many articles and reports have the safety and well-being of people in mind, it’s hard to know which sources to truly trust. Some people don’t understand epidemiology, predictive models and projection models, which are based on multiple assumptions and data that constantly changes. So while it’s important to be informed, it’s not helpful at the consumer level, as it can create an uncertain environment, which leads to anxiety and confusion.

How can we overcome conflicting and uncertain information?

There’s a lot people can do to overcome conflicting and uncertain information during times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The top recommendations include:

  • Limit your exposure to ongoing news and social media around this issue. Encouraging your employees to spend a certain amount of time away from technology every day will help mitigate some of the fear and uncertainty. Recommend that they use that time to recharge by taking a walk, meditating, exercising, or calling a friend or family member.
  • Visit your most evidence-based, research-oriented institutions. For better or worse, our society and the news have become politicized. To be nonpartisan, objective and evidence-based, limit use of opinion-based blogs and news outlets. Instead, focus on sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, World Health Organization, health carriers and health partners.
  • Provide ongoing communication to your employees with critical updates, particularly pertaining to the seeking of health care and behavioral recommendations. These include hand-washing, physical distancing, sheltering in place, face masks, not touching your face, and using a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Help your employees focus on the current facts, reinforce what is in their control and remind them of available resources should they need them. Ultimately, provide a transparent, yet hopeful, message that this is not a permanent situation and that we will get through it together.

One lesson the current situation has shown us is the importance of social connection. Help your employees stay connected and informed to increase well-being and reduce anxiety and misinformation. We have a long way to go in the fight against COVID-19, but staying informed and sharing reputable sources with your employees will help.

Visit the Optum COVID-19 site to discover tools available to you and your employees. Also, learn about a new study that explains how employee well-being, work arrangements, productivity and workplace policies are being impacted by COVID-19.


About the author

SerxnerSeth - Full shotSeth Serxner, PhD, MPH
Chief Health Officer, Optum

Seth Serxner, a national expert on behavior change, program design and measurement, brings the breadth of his experience in academia, industry and consulting to his role as chief health officer at Optum.

His versatile skill set ensures processes and outcomes that improve health for clients in all markets. His deep knowledge of behavior change, population health and measurement allows him to visualize and deliver on program innovation.

He is a published author with over 25 years of experience in health and productivity management. He holds a master’s in public health and a doctorate from the University of California, where his research focused on health promotion and disease prevention in social ecology.


*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus disease 2019 frequently asked questions. Updated April 4, 2020. Accessed April 8, 2020.


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