How does a political leader’s messaging during a pandemic influence social distancing by citizens? We model the strategic choice of narrative in a beauty contest setting where the leader seeks to eliminate the disease. The leader’s resolve to eliminate the disease affects her narrative in a non-linear way. A resolute leader adopts a highly partisan narrative that identifies strongly with her followers, albeit at the expense of her payoff, while an ambivalent leader with low resolve for eliminating the disease is less partisan. Our result speaks to the debate on the voluntary acceptance of limits to individual liberty during a pandemic.