Contact Tracing Programs Have to Work with Local Communities to be Successful

Contact tracing programs have to work with local communities to be successful

People won’t pick up the phone if they don’t trust the person on the other end

Tracking the spread of COVID-19 could help fight the pandemic — but a lot of people aren’t answering the phone when contact tracers call. To gain the public’s trust, experts say officials should work with community members when they develop contact tracing programs. That’s especially important for poor communities and communities of color, which may be suspicious of the health care system in general, even as they’re facing high rates of coronavirus infection.

“You’re building a new system on top of historic mistrust. You may be trying to reach people who have never accessed primary care, people who are worried about anything related to the government, or who may have mixed citizenship families,” says Denise Smith, executive director at the National Association of Community Health Workers.

Every piece of a contact tracing program has to be scrutinized to make sure it won’t exacerbate those worries — including word choice. When global health organization Partners In Health started working with the state of Massachusetts to develop a COVID-19 contact tracing program, it quickly figured out a key word to avoid: agent.

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