Objectives This study examines the contents of official communication from United States governors' offices related to the COVID-19 pandemic to assess patterns in communication and to determine if they correlate with trends for COVID cases and deaths. Methods We collected text data for all COVID-19 related press releases between March 1 and December 31, 2020 from the US governors' office websites in all 50 states. An automated parsing and sentiment analyzer assessed descriptive statistics and trends in tone, including positivity and negativity. Results We included a total of 7,720 press releases in this study. We found that both positive and negative sentiments were homogenous across states at the beginning of the pandemic but became heterogeneous as the pandemic evolved. The same trend applied to the frequency and tone of press releases. Sentiments across states were overall positive with a small level of negativity. We observed a reactive official communication to the evolution of the number of COVID-19 cases rather than responsive or preventive. Conclusions The findings of both positivity and negativity in press communications suggest that the effect of discounted importance was present in official communications. Our findings support a state-dependent optimal communication frequency and tone, agreeing with the curvilinear communication model of organizational theory and implying that feedback cycles between government officials and public response should be shortened to rapidly maximize communication efficacy during the pandemic. Future research should identify and evaluate the drivers of the large differences in communication tone across states and validate the reactive characteristics of COVID-19 official communications.
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