Ideological differences have had a large impact on individual and community response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Early behavioral research during the pandemic showed that conservatives were less likely to adhere to health directives, which contradicts a body of work suggesting that conservative ideology emphasizes a rule abiding, loss aversion, and prevention focus. We reconcile this contradiction by analyzing semantic content of local press releases, federal press releases, and localized tweets during the first month of the government response to COVID-19 in the United States. Controlling for factors such as COVID-19 confirmed cases and deaths, local economic indicators, and more, we find that online expressions of fear in conservative areas lead to an increase in adherence to public health recommendations concerning COVID-19, and that expressions of fear in government press releases are a significant predictor of expressed fear on Twitter. © 2021 Association for Computational Linguistics.