Urban News Staff Reports

As the United States surpasses four million confirmed COVID-19 cases, data show that Black and Latinx communities are much harder hit, with higher rates of infection and Black and Latinx people are more than twice as likely to die from the virus as white people. This inequity and the ongoing racial justice crisis may leave these same communities with significant trust gaps that lead to lower participation in government-led mitigation strategies such as contact tracing. Today, Vital Strategies released research findings from dozens of interviews with Black and Latinx people and community leaders on what types of messages are most likely to engage communities of color, meet their needs and address their concerns.

“Contact tracing is one of the key components to reduce the spread of COVID-19 but Black and Latinx people, who are among the hardest hit communities may be least likely to participate if efforts to engage them aren’t grounded in their experiences,” said Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President, Policy, Advocacy and Communication with Vital Strategies. “It won’t matter how many contact tracers we have if no one answers the phone, disregards their message, or responds with skepticism. Our research suggests that people are more likely to answer the call if the effort has been promoted, endorsed and reinforced by trusted community leaders and if the messages are empowering and engender a sense of agency and self-determination.”

Seeking to understand which media messages and messengers would promote participation in contact tracing, Vital Strategies conducted focus groups with African Americans, other people of African descent, and Latinx people in New York and Philadelphia. Key findings suggested that to successfully engage these audiences in contact tracing:

Contact tracers must be local, culturally competent, and empathetic.
Contact tracing needs to be better explained.
Local organizations can engender community buy-in.
People need to be reassured about their confidentiality.

BE THE ONE’ was the concept that resonated most with the focus groups as it centers on the individual’s participation in contact tracing as the key to helping their communities. By taking specific actions, such as answering the call from a contact tracing, people can help stop the spread of the virus.

“The Black and Latinx people we interviewed were all too familiar with COVID-19,” said Denene Rodney, President and CEO of Zebra Strategies, a private research company that conducted the focus groups. “We heard stories of lost loved ones, distrust in the government and marginalization in the COVID-19 response. But we also saw that messages that highlight how contact tracing is rooted in neighborhoods generated a lot of enthusiasm for participating. We hope this data encourages governments to mount community engagement efforts grounded in these messages.”

Twelve focus groups with a total of 88 people participated. The groups consisted of African American, English and Spanish-speaking Latinx, and Black immigrant communities in New York City and Philadelphia.

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