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Bucknell’s Martin Gauges Slow Response to the ‘Slow’ COVID-19 Crisis

To say all levels of government weren’t on the same page in the initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic would be an understatement. But now federal, state and local government all appear to be coalescing behind the gravity of this health emergency, requiring unprecedented lifestyle and financial action.

Eric Martin, a Bucknell Freeman College of Management professor who studies disaster and response, attributes at least some of the slow initial response to the nature of this “slow crisis.”

“Originally, the response was slow and I think more could have done more quickly, but it’s very difficult in a sort of a slow crisis like this,” Martin says. “It’s not a very immediate thing like the 9/11 attacks or something that would rally all stakeholders at once to respond to something. Here, we’ve seen people slowly get on board — almost incrementally — but maybe we’re at a tipping point now where things are starting to align and we’re starting to see agreement at multiple levels of government and different types of decision-makers.”

In disasters, Martin has found there are acute issues — the actual events that happen — as well as chronic underlying problems that impact the response. Highly politicized chronic underlying problems, including some encouraged by President Trump, may have contributed heavily to the nation’s initial tepid response.

“I think some of the skepticism of news — possibly a result of some of the divisiveness in our country — may have allowed folks to politicize some of those moments rather than really getting behind an expert like the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” he says.

“In this crisis, the acute issue is an immediate spread of a disease and possibility of death and great problems. One chronic problem might be that we haven’t all been aligned on what are valuable and reliable sources of information and some folks were not listening to the CDC and WHO with their dire warnings very early on.”

Americans could have also been confused as to which leader they should listen to during this crisis. Martin has found that in moments like these, people tend to look for leadership, regardless of whether it’s there or not. He says rather than a central voice, the COVID-19 response has been incremental and originates from a number of sources amid slow rollouts.

“It’s very difficult [to unify behind a response] absent some centralized voice where we’re hearing a repeated, consistent message,” he says. “Instead, I feel we were hearing different kinds of messaging.”

Now, the message is clear, stay home and practice physical isolation while avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people.


CONTACTS: Martin, 570-577-3628, 570-594-9444 (c),; Mike Ferlazzo, 570-238-6266 (c),

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