Skip to content ↓
Press Room

Governments Should Address Devastating Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color with Focused Contact Tracing Campaigns

Insights gathered from research with Black, Latinx audiences on COVID-19 contact tracing

August 3, 2020 (New York) – 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.

To learn more about Vital Strategies’ Resolve to Save Lives Contact Tracing work and to read the complete findings of these focus groups, click here.

About Resolve to Save Lives

Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, aims to prevent at least 100 million deaths from cardiovascular disease and epidemics. Through its Prevent Epidemics program, Resolve to Save Lives has rapidly leveraged existing networks to partner with countries throughout Africa and beyond to combat COVID-19. Resolve is led by Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is part of the global health organization Vital Strategies. To find out more visit:  or Twitter @ResolveTSL.

Resolve to Save Lives created a website called that shows how prepared each country is for an epidemic, including COVID-19, and how many flights are coming and going from infected countries. This site is also a resource for current coronavirus statistics and resources.

Resolve to Save Lives’ US COVID-19 Response Program works with public health officials and health department staff to strengthen their efforts on prevention strategies, testing, isolation and quarantine, contact tracing and community engagement in order to meet the goals of protecting public health and safely reopening communities and economies.

About Vital Strategies:

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.

Stay in the know:  Follow #KnowCOVID or subscribe to Vital Strategies’ Twitter, Facebook or Instagram accounts.