In difficult and frightening times, it’s normal for a certain amount of confusion and misinformation to spread. The existence of social media and hyperpartisan “news” outlets undoubtedly exacerbate the problem, but even those are just exaggerated versions of things that have been with us for some time.
But two things make the torrent of coronavirus misinformation distinct. The first one is simple: much of the misinformation starts at the top, where President Donald Trump seems willing to say whatever crosses his mind when he finds himself in front of a microphone.
But the second is trickier: unlike a national disaster or terrorist attack, we have no models for how long the coronavirus pandemic will last or how we will recover from it. There’s no “we’ll rebuild” mindset that people can use to make sense out of what’s going to happen and guide their expectations.