The Role of News Consumption and Trust in Public Health Leadership in Shaping COVID-19 Knowledge and Prejudice

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The novelty of COVID-19 has created unique challenges to successful public health efforts because it has required the public to quickly learn and formulate knowledge and attitudes about the virus as information becomes available. The need to stay apprised of new information has also created a critical role for mass media and public institutions in shaping the public’s knowledge of, attitudes about, and responses to the unfolding pandemic. In this study, we examine how media consumption and reliance on specific institutions for information shapes three critical outcomes associated with public health epidemics: the accumulation of knowledge and the endorsement of misinformation about COVID-19, and prejudicial responses to the virus. We surveyed 1,141 adults residing across the United States in March 2020. Using multivariate regression and t-tests, we found that participants had greater knowledge, were less likely to endorse misinformation, and reported less bias toward Asian Americans when they had higher trust in the CDC and lower trust in President Trump. Reliance on certain news formats and sources was also associated with knowledge, misinformation, and prejudice. Our findings suggest that trust and news consumption can pose critical barriers to health literacy and foster negative prejudicial responses that further undermine public health efforts surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.