Exploring the narrative weather of Covid-19. The Rona Report is a project of ReFrame and Solea Signals. COVID time is confusing. It can feel like light speed and sloth slow all at once.

Exploring the narrative weather of Covid-19. The Rona Report is a project of ReFrame and Solea Signals.

COVID time is confusing. It can feel like light speed and sloth slow all at once. The same goes for public debate at this time; trending concepts like “flatten the curve” and “Grandma Killer” can appear and disappear within days and weeks, while narratives that we’d like to see disappear, like “Yellow Peril” and “Government as freedom-killer,” threaten to become further entrenched.  

Navigating the dynamics of this narrative space is no easy task when we’re putting out the fires and running from crisis to crisis. The Rona Report is here to help those of us who don’t have time to find the signal in the noise. We’re drawing out trends and analyzing them to offer you possibilities to leverage them toward big change.

This week, in our inaugural Rona Report (see endnote for research methods), we’re exploring narrative weather trends from the past three months around Covid-19, the economy and workers.

Want to make sure you receive future Rona Reports and other nerdy behind-the-scenes-banter about building a narrative weather station? If you haven’t already, make sure you sign up here.


In 1992 political strategist James Carville declared, “The economy, stupid.” This became a core message for Bill Clinton’s winning campaign against George H.W. Bush. The message became a mantra, and “the economy” became a primary driver of U.S. narrative in modern times. This is no different under Covid-19.

When looking at the conversation about the economy during Covid-19, two primary trends emerge: the Trump Economy and the Covid Economy.


Google Trend map graph with two lines one red, one blue to show the volume of searches for COVID Economy vs. Trump Economy

Amidst these two trends, we wondered how social movement reframing of the economy compared. We explored the popularity of Solidarity Economy and Care Economy.

FEB 8 - APR 29, 2020

Google Trend map graph with four lines of various colors to show the volume of searches for COVID Economy vs. Trump Economy vs Care Economy vs Solidarity Economy

Hot Takes


With 33+ million people in the United States laid off, furloughed and out of paid work, there is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape the conversation about jobs, labor, workers, wages, and the role of the government in relationship to protecting workers and regulating corporations and the economy.

While we are all in this together, historic and present day systemic racism means that Black people, Native people, Latinx people and some segments of Asian-American communities are getting sick and dying at far higher rates than white people. There are many reasons for these disparities, and one of them is that it is people of color, and often women of color, who are disproportionately exposed to the virus because they hold down frontline jobs.

In this context, it’s of course more important than ever to fight for workers’ rights. But just as everything in the rest of the world has changed, the way we demand these protections also has to change.

Similar to the economy search, the popularity volume trend of Workers Rights has erratic peaks and valleys but overall the pattern is steady. By the middle of March we see the emergence of Essential Workers as a core trend with significant volume increase over workers rights.


Google Trend map graph with two lines one red, one blue to show the volume of searches for workers rights vs essential workers

When we explore unemployment in comparison to workers rights and essential workers, we can see that the peaks and valleys of essential workers and unemployment are similar but the volume of unemployment is much higher.

FEB 8 - APR 29, 2020

Google Trend map graph with three lines of red, blue, and yellow to show the volume of searches for workers rights vs essential workers vs unemployment

Taking it a step further we begin searching for the patterns in search popularity around demands coming from individuals, communities and organizations in response to the economic crises under Covid-19 including hazard pay, paycheck protection, and unemployment benefits.

FEB 8 - APR 29, 2020

Google Trend map graph with three lines of red, blue, and yellow to show the volume of searches for hazard pay, paycheck protection, unemployment benefits

While we searched for several variations of PPE for workers, the volume is negligible in relationship to wages and salary for workers. Finally, we explored other demands in relationships to unemployment benefits and the CARES Act (which included paycheck protections for some). These included canceling rent, student loan forgiveness, and the people’s bailout.


Hot Takes


Narrative is a process and not a product. If we are trying to influence common sense, then we have to crack open space so that new meaning can be made to fuel the breakdown of trust in some narratives while establishing confidence and hope in others. We can do this by seeding doubt and seeding vision. This is not a linear process, it is a dance. Here are some possible steps in this dance:

  1. Interrupt the false dichotomy that we have to choose between saving the economy and saving lives. Instead we can name that there is no more important business than saving lives, and that the integrity and sustainability of our economy depends on a humane and evidence-based approach to the pandemic. We can use examples like the Works Progress Administration and The New Deal to showcase policies that supported both work and people’s humanity while being careful to not prioritize “back to work” over health and safety. We can also use examples from other countries where businesses have had to abruptly close after reopening caused spikes in COVID-19 cases.

  1. Establish the ideas and values of the Economy of the Future.
    We must move the needle beyond “Trump economy” and “Covid economy” and define “the Economy of the Future.” Whether it’s the Care Economy, the Solidarity Economy, or the Green New Deal, we must seed the vision that the government is responsible for the regulation of corporations and the distribution of resources for an equitable and healthy economic future for all. We can begin by providing a steady drumbeat to prop up the crisis measures that should become a permanent feature of our society: expanded unemployment, better health protections and compensation for some workers, the CARE Act, and stimulus checks that should be the precursor to Universal Basic Income. There is already proof these things are possible.

  1. Be explicit about race, class and gender within the Economy of the Future
    We know from the seminal work of Makani Themba, and from the messaging work of Anat Shenker-Osorio and Ian Haney López, that when we erase race from our communication we set ourselves up for policies and practices that further entrench institutional racism. The small listening we conducted shows that we are good at talking about race, class and gender in discussing disparities in COVID rates and economic impacts. In some cases we are also good at talking about disparities in access to relief. We can take the additional step of naming that any economic recovery must set the groundwork for an equitable economy of the future where race, class and gender based disparities in health and economic security are eliminated.
  2. Provide for ourselves, but also demand the government we need to make transformative change. Our small listening of partners and progressive forces showed that our messaging and stories have focused heavily on mutual aid. While mutual aid is beautiful, necessary and literally life-saving, we can name that this community action can and should be enacted by the government on a larger scale. We frequently concede that the government doesn’t care about us and therefore will not implement the policies required to regulate the economy and take care of people’s most basic needs like shelter, food, and resources. Instead, we can distinguish between the current federal government as it has been shaped by neo-liberal ideology and the expanded, responsive and participatory government we need: a government that should function as a guarantor of collective rights, a regulator for mutual aid, an investor in public services, and an expression of multi-racial democracy that enacts economic policies that care for all people.

  3. Name, pressure and delegitimize elected officials who are choosing profit over life. Prop up elected officials who are getting it right. Instead of just broadly naming “the government” as untrustworthy and inefficient, directly target and call out specific elected officials for their inability to keep people safe. Give concrete examples of how their failure to govern directly leads to sickness and death that leaves no one untouched. Give concrete alternatives by pointing to elected officials who are taking bold action to protect life while also providing economic relief and making measured plans for economic recovery.

  4. Speak to the bigger “we” that has been created by this moment, and appeal to cross-racial solidarity among the 99%. Our economy is built on discrimination and exploitation, and this pandemic is hitting poor people, women and other people of color harder than ever. Demands to reopen the economy are spearheaded largely by white privileged conservatives at the expense of Black and Brown people working in frontline jobs, as well as elderly people and disabled people. Unemployment insurance (and other pieces of the social safety net) has long been framed as an encouragement to laziness and sloth, a definite racial dog whistle.

    There is a new landscape of possibility: the vast numbers of us who are economically and physically vulnerable because of the pandemic constitute a larger “we.” A broader set of us share material conditions of uncertainty in this crisis as well as a heightened sense of responsibility for each others’ health, which can lead to an increased sense of social solidarity. This larger WE can be encouraged to take action to pressure our government to more fully transform the economy.

Endnote – Research Methods
This report uses a combination of Google Trends analytics and “small listening” or content analysis done by our Signals team at ReFrame. Google Trends analyzes “a sample of data based on Google web searches to determine how many searches were done over a period of time.” The results are a 50,000 foot view of search term popularity over time. While we are not looking at absolute volume, we can get a sense of the movement of a conversation or set of conversations across time and in comparison to each other. While the data from Google is imperfect, and partial as all data is, it is free and can be a useful tool for foraying into the world of big listening. Future Rona Reports will combine big listening, Google Trends and human-powered small listening.

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