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Coronavirus might be the biggest trend in Google search history

The appetite for information about an illness has never been higher. Here’s what people are asking.

Coronavirus might be the biggest trend in Google search history
[Photo: Andrew Neel/Unsplash; CDC]
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Over the past four hours, people across America have been searching for information about what “national emergency” means. This was likely caused by reports earlier today that the White House would declare one. And it did, in a speech by the president Friday afternoon from the Rose Garden.

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Google says the question “What is a national emergency?” spiked +1,950% in the past four hours. Searches for “national emergency” have risen +4,000% in the same time period.

As evidenced by President Trump’s statement that Google would be building a website related to the administration’s coronavirus response, many people turn to Google in the time of an emergency for information and answers. (Actually, it’s Google’s sister company Verily that’s building a limited tool to direct people to COVID-19 testing centers, but only in the San Francisco Bay Area.)

Coronavirus has been an extremely hot search topic, as people look for information about the virus itself and about how they might be affected. In fact, as Washington Post data reporter Christopher Ingraham points out, it may be the biggest Google Trend in history. Searches and questions about the virus are already twice as big in volume as searches around Trump’s election in 2016.

And yet some of the most frequently asked questions have nothing to do with an immediate threat to health, but rather focus on trivialities. Yesterday the top question asked was “Does Tom Hanks have coronavirus?” Today the top two questions are about an amusement park and a basketball tournament. It’s also possible that people are going directly to health sites such as WebMD or Mayo Clinic with their more serious queries.

What people in the U.S. are asking about COVID-19

The top coronavirus-related questions today reflect people’s interest in whether places are open or events are happening. Both Disney World and Disneyland will be closed for a month, and March Madness was canceled.

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  1. Is Disney World closed?
  2. Is March Madness canceled?
  3. How long can the coronavirus live on surfaces?
  4. How many cases of coronavirus are in Michigan?
  5. How many cases of coronavirus are in Ohio?

The top coronavirus-related searches by people in the U.S. point to an interest in celebrities and high-profile people who’ve contracted the illness. For instance, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19, and former basketball legend Charles Barkley is under self-quarantine because he believes he may have the virus. Utah Jazz player Donovan Mitchell also tested positive for coronavirus.

  1. Justin Trudeau
  2. Charles Barkley
  3. Disney World closed
  4. Donovan Mitchell
  5. Disneyland closure

According to Google, searches for “Drive-up coronavirus testing” have spiked +1,900% in the past week in the U.S., while “Movies to watch during coronavirus” has increased +900%. The question “Should I be going to the gym during coronavirus?” surged +1,050% over the past week.

What people around the globe want to know about COVID-19

Top questions from people around the world are similar to those in the United States.

  1. Is Disney World closed?
  2. How many cases of coronavirus are in Michigan?
  3. How many cases of coronavirus are in Ohio?
  4. What kills the coronavirus?
  5. Where can I get tested for Coronavirus?

Top coronavirus-related searches from people around the world indicate widespread interest in the health and actions of world leaders. Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro now says he tested negative for the virus after earlier reports to the contrary. French president Emmanuel Macron says schools will close Monday, but Sunday’s municipal elections can go forward.

  1. Disney World closed
  2. Donovan Mitchell
  3. Bolsonaro coronavirus
  4. Macron coronavirus
  5. Belgique coronavirus (French language query: Belgium coronavirus)

Searches for loneliness have peaked at the highest point in Trends history, since 2004. Iran is the top country searching for loneliness, followed by Afghanistan and Italy over the past week, worldwide, Google says.

The coronavirus has also been a hot topic over at Ask.com. The company provided a list of its most-asked coronavirus questions:

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  1. How do you make your own hand sanitizer? (top question)
  2. What is a pandemic?
  3. What are coronavirus symptoms?
  4. Where can I find a coronavirus map?
  5. Can I still touch my face and avoid the coronavirus?

About the author

Fast Company Senior Writer Mark Sullivan covers emerging technology, politics, artificial intelligence, large tech companies, and misinformation. An award-winning San Francisco-based journalist, Sullivan's work has appeared in Wired, Al Jazeera, CNN, ABC News, CNET, and many others.

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