case study:

Understanding the importance of contact tracing

Contact Tracing  

Covid-19 has brought new ways of doing previous tasks, and with this new order, there is a plethora of information and services out there that can seem overwhelming. Overwhelming options are not the only concern; however, the added stress of knowing what everything offered to you is evident. One such service was the idea of contact tracing, what is a contact tracer, and how much knowledge the public has about this? 


To answer this fundamental question, Zebra Strategies teamed up with Vital Strategies to determine which media messages and messengers would promote participation in contact tracing amongst Black and Hispanic/Latinx populations. The specific focus was to test ads (print and mock radio scripts) catered toward the New York and Philadelphia areas. The goal was to give clear and concise information on what contact tracing entailed, its need, and where to go. 



  • Address and mitigate the distrust and misinformation among Black and Latinx people that can discourage them from getting treatment or cooperating with government contact tracers for COVID-19
  • Identify how to foster a culture of trust and cooperation between public health workers/contact tracers and Black, Latinx, and immigrants’ communities as well as residents in the U.S. who are 55+ 
  • Overcome the barriers to trusting and engaging with public health recommendations

Our Approach

Zebra Strategies held 12 online focus groups with 88 respondents, consisting of low-income people of color in 11 groups from the New York area (specifically Suffolk and Westchester County) and Pennsylvania (specifically Philadelphia). The 12th group had community stakeholders (community organization managers, outreach centers, etc.), which had respondents of all races. 

The study tested three potential concepts with three different stimuli and messaging on contact tracing, including “Spread the Love,” “Keep in Contact,” and “Be the One.” Concept variations tailored to local features were also presented to participants in Philadelphia and Stakeholder groups. During each focus group discussion, the moderator presented participants with the three potential concepts in print, social media, and radio advertisements.


 People of color are disproportionately at a disadvantage to their white counterparts; add the factor of low income, and that statistic is significantly increased. To get perspective on communities that have yet another problem tossed on to their daily lives was beyond eye-opening.


The groups’ feedback identified key messages and approaches that would successfully encourage Black and Hispanic/Latinx people to participate in contact tracing efforts. We found that people understand that Covid-19 is a problem, and they wholeheartedly want to use all the resources given to them, but at the same time, they don’t feel that the services are reciprocating this sense of help. The respondents told us that they had feelings of distrust that contact tracing was another form of data collection. They did appreciate the ads targeting their specific communities and that the ads had as much information about contacting tracing. That much openness on an ad helped bridge the gap of distrust to some degree.


We found that contact tracing campaigns should reassure confidentiality and amplify personal agency and responsibility: The narrative needs to be shifted from surveillance, coercion, and privacy infringement, to empowerment, personal responsibility, and responsibility to the community and loved ones. Public health agencies need to dispel myths and rumors by better explaining contact tracing, emphasizing that it saves lives.  


Zebra’s CEO Denene Rodney and Vital Strategies VP Sandra Mullin co-authored a paper on the research findings published by Think Global Health. The final report and a Contact Tracing Community Messaging Toolkit. The toolkit, designed to support health departments, community organizations, and trusted messengers, was developed using the information and insights obtained from the focus groups. 


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