Regulation during COVID-19

News Sentiment Improved, While Uncertainty Remains
July 7, 2020

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Scholars have identified various regulatory barriers hampering responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the regulatory approval required for drugs and medical devices has created “bottlenecks” for expanding the capacity of virus testing, ambiguous and often changing regulations “have served as hindrances” to the increasing use of telehealth, and patients have limited access to mobile narcotic treatment due to regulatory bans. Do these criticisms reflect the public’s opinion toward regulation, and how did average public sentiment evolve with the spread of COVID-19? This article explores these questions by presenting a text-based sentiment analysis of news articles related to COVID-19 and regulation.

The analysis shows that the expression about regulation in the COVID-related news was negative in most days during the beginning of the virus outbreak, but it started to improve in mid-March. The improvement may suggest increased public confidence in regulatory responses to the pandemic, as the government started to take the virus more seriously and regulatory agencies started to issue temporary relaxations of regulations. However, the level of uncertainty expressed in the news shows no signs of diminishing, indicating persistent uncertainty surrounding regulation in the time of COVID-19. Further topic modeling of news articles suggests that sentiment and uncertainty vary across different regulatory issues. News covering quarantine and reopening, legislation (other than the stimulus bill), and testing and treatment revealed the most negative sentiment, and uncertainty was relatively high regarding testing and treatment, workplace safety, banking and lending, and oil prices.