Case Study

Dismantling Distrust of Contact Tracing
During COVID-19

The Challenge

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Black and Latinx communities especially hard, and contact tracing is crucial to control the spread of this virus. At the same time, these marginalized communities are wary of participating in contact tracing efforts.

Zebra Strategies teamed up with Vital Strategies to understand the hesitations of marginalized communities and determine which strategies would relieve their fears.

Our Initial Findings

Zebra Strategies organized twelve focus groups of six to ten people each, with a total of 88 participants. These groups were made up of Black and Latinx people from New York City and Philadelphia. A psychologist oversaw these groups and recorded their responses, which revealed high levels of distrust:

  • Anger about the government’s poor response to COVID-19 that encouraged chaos instead of helping
  • Distrust of contact tracing that is rooted in Black and Latinx communities being failed by the system in the past—common fears include a risk of surveillance or harassment from government agents or law enforcement, losing insurance or employment because of health status, and information being shared with unauthorized parties
  • Discomfort in speaking to strangers about personal information and worry that people with COVID-19 will face public humiliation

On a more positive note, the focus groups also revealed that Black and Latinx community members are very willing to help control COVID-19 for the good of their neighbors and relatives. They want to do their part, so a proper outreach strategy could overcome these hurdles.

Actionable Insights

Zebra Strategies developed five main suggestions for a successful contact tracing plan in marginalized communities. By using the below strategies, health departments can increase the effectiveness of contact tracing programs that reach out to marginalized communities, controlling the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives.

Community members are much more likely to cooperate with local representatives than with the federal government and answer phone calls with local area codes.

Endorsement of contact tracing from local churches, mosques, schools, and civic groups will make community members feel much safer.

People are more likely to cooperate if they understand exactly what contact tracing is. Participants noted that hearing this from someone who recovered from COVID-19 would make them more open to it.

Since marginalized communities already distrust government oversight, they need extra reassurance that their information won’t be shared with anyone.

Participants prefer to work with tracers who are people of color. In all cases, the tracer should be sensitive and respectful of the people they reach out to.

Client Reviews

Reactions from Vital Strategies

Zebra Strategies was the right fit for our research, which sought insights into difficult social issues within communities that have been marginalized. We needed a research partner who could both cover the rigorous technical design and bring relationships and experience to the table to allow us to execute quickly and overcome challenging recruitment needs. Our project was successful because of a strong team committed to feedback at every step.