One important caveat about Google Trends data: It doesn’t reveal exactly how many people are searching for a given term, it just gives a sense of whether that term has risen or fallen in popularity. So to approximate absolute search volume, presumably popular search terms like “Donald Trump” and “Kim Kardashian,” will serve as guideposts.
First let’s set the lay of the land: Searches for “coronavirus” increased roughly sevenfold over the course of the week. You can tell that many, many people are interested because searches for the virus far surpassed those for “Donald Trump,” who is usually the main driver of news in a given week. Searches really started taking off on Tuesday and continued to rise Wednesday as Trump held a news conference on the virus.
Related terms like “coronavirus symptoms” saw similar jumps in popularity.
The popular disinfectant had a big week as people stocked up on household cleaning products in preparation for the disease making its way to the United States. Clorox and Purell also had a big week in search.
Though Lysol is not currently as popular as Trump, it has surpassed Kim Kardashian as of this writing — something that has not previously happened in the search data history and a sign that there is a considerable amount of interest in the product.
3. “Perishable foods”
As experts began to recommend stocking up on certain household products, searches for terms like “perishable foods” saw a rise in popularity. Related terms like “prepping” and “survivalism” also got a boost.
4. “Social distancing”
This is a term that we might start hearing more of if experts begin talking about coronavirus in terms of mitigation, rather than containment. It refers to practices people can use to keep other people at a literal distance to minimize their risk of passing on or contracting an infectious disease.
The term encompasses school closures, encouraging telework or canceling large events. While the search term has spiked in the past week, in absolute terms the Kardashian and Trump comparisons suggest interest remains fairly low.
5. “Cancel trip”
Speaking of social distancing, people are trying to figure out whether they need to cancel travel plans. The search data shows that trips to Italy are of particular concern, given the scope of the coronavirus outbreak there. But so far this search has reached only one-ninth of a Kardashian in terms of popularity.
6. “Solano County”
A lesser-known county in the San Francisco Bay area had explosive growth, driven by news that the first confirmed U.S. coronavirus case with no known links to other sick patients was discovered there. Solano County raced past Kardashian on Wednesday, when the news first broke, and has maintained relative parity with Kardashian searches since then.
This is an odd one — searches for “carnivorous” briefly breached the Kardashian threshold on Wednesday. That day, the Daily Mail published an article critical of the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which several days prior had published a tweet pointing out that “coronavirus” and “carnivorous” are anagrams of each other. The tweet was widely mocked online.
However, that fact doesn’t explain the concomitant rise in a related search: “carnivorous symptoms.” Presumably the people searching for information related to the Daily Mail story would know that “carnivorous” is not the actual name of the virus. Both terms dropped off rapidly on Thursday.
8. “Dog coronavirus”
Some people are looking for information on how the disease might affect their pets. This phenomenon has been spurred largely by reports that a dog in China tested positive for the disease, although at the moment it’s unclear whether a dog can even become infected.
This stems from a two-year-old visual from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which went viral this week despite not having anything to do with the coronavirus. The visual was created to illustrate how different types of facial hair would break the seal of certain types of respirators.
Here’s the thing, though: While interest in “beards” rose, searches for “shaving” actually declined, suggesting that American men aren’t worried enough about respirator compatibility to change their grooming habits.
Not all coronavirus-related searches are seeking to soothe an anxiety. The 2011 Steven Soderbergh film “Contagion” is enjoying a renaissance in the coronavirus era, as are other virus-related movies like “Outbreak.”
11. “Netflix stock”
Some people are, in fact, looking for opportunity in the epidemic: As the stock market has tanked, investors are looking for stocks that might be expected to do well in the event of a stateside outbreak.
“Netflix stock,” for instance, was a big search this week under the assumption that people forced to stay home from school or work would be in need of entertainment. People searched for “Zoom stock” in the hopes that videoconferencing services would see a boost from the epidemic, and for “3M stock” under the assumption that the virus would be good for makers of personal protective gear.
All three stocks approached Kardashian levels as the week came to a close.