Public communication

A checklist for setting up communications for community sensitization and support of contact tracing


1. Risk communication and community engagement

  • Develop a strategy for risk communication and community engagement to support a successful contact tracing initiative.
  • 1.a Support contact tracing corps and skilled contact tracers with training and other needs.
    • Contact tracers need to be skilled, experienced, and well-trained for the risk communication issues specific to COVID-19.
    • This will ensure that people who engage with contact tracers feel supported and protected and receive empathetic, culturally appropriate engagement in an accessible language.
  • 1.b Engage community leaders.
    • Identify people that communities trust, build relationships with them, and enlist them as validators of your contact tracing messages. (See Vital Strategies Engaging Communities in Contact Tracing During the COVID-19 Pandemic for more information)
    • This may include faith and ethnic group leaders, community leaders, business leaders, leaders within vulnerable populations, teachers, or public officials, among others.
    • Jurisdictions should engage community leaders by:
      • Establishing a mechanism for feedback to refine messaging and tactics
      • Sharing communication plans and approaches
      • Sharing official fact sheets and other communication tools
      • Encouraging them to participate in press briefings
      • Encouraging and supporting them to share official public health notifications, recommendations and other messages with their communities. Community leaders can use existing communication channels (such as social media and email newsletters); new channels can be established as appropriate
  • 1.c Communicate widely via public information campaigns, using mass media, web sites and digital media to explain contact tracing and its impact.
    • Engage journalists and consider journalist trainings to ensure journalists understand the program and are reporting factual and timely information.
    • Use mass media and digital communication campaigns to build awareness on how contact tracing is helping us all get to a better tomorrow and build trust in contact tracing for the most affected communities. (See Vital Strategies Talking Points on Contact Tracing for Public Health Leadership Speaking to the Media and COVID-19 Contact Tracing Communication Toolkit for more information)
    • Official health department social media handles, such as on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, among others, should be used to amplify messaging.
    • Consider communications campaigns that explain the contact tracing and testing process and how personal information is protected.
    • Consider running an “answer your phone” campaign that shows the importance of answering calls and engaging honestly with contact tracing staff.
    • Inform the public about contact tracing at COVID-19 testing sites. (See Vital Strategies Contact Tracing Information Flyer for Use at Test Sites)
  • 1.d Understand risk communication principles and apply them.
    • Express empathy often. COVID-19 is scary, and spokespeople should acknowledge that. People may find it invasive to consider sharing information about who they’ve been in contact with. Be sure to empathize with the public about the downsides of contact tracing, while reminding people of the benefits to their family, neighbors, friends and communities.
    • Communication that expresses empathy, is credible, provides anticipatory guidance, promotes action, and shows respect will help build trust.
  • 1.e Respect confidentiality.
    • Communication on every level needs to address and allay public concerns about privacy and confidentiality.
  • 1.f Evaluate and improve communication efforts

2. Communications and notifications

  • 2.a Determine messages and channels for relaying messages to cases, contacts and health care providers.
    • Support cases and contacts while in isolation and quarantine to ensure they have the information needed to stay safe and adhere to public health recommendations. (See National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Encouraging Participation and Cooperation in Contact Tracing: Lessons from Survey Research)
      • Share new information on the COVID-19 situation in the area.
      • Reiterate and update on health and safety recommendations.
      • Link to information sources, including official websites, press briefings and hotline.
      • Consider using email or text messages for sharing messages (or digital apps as relevant).
      • Provide fact sheets, FAQs and other educational resources
    • Target messages to specific audiences, including COVID-19 cases and contacts, high-risk communities such as long-term care facilities and group homes, and health care providers and hospitals.
    • Make materials available in multiple languages according to local needs.
    • Send notifications to health care providers when there are changes to procedures or policies relating to provision of health care, laboratory testing, treatments, or vaccines.
    • Consider using Facebook Messenger to locate and communicate with cases and contacts. (See Vital Strategies Using Facebook to Help Locate People With or At Risk for COVID-19)
  • 2.b Consider establishing messages and procedures for community notifications of exposure.
    • Notifications should include messaging in line with CDC public health recommendations for community-related exposure:
      • Be alert for symptoms
      • Watch for fever, cough, or shortness of breath
      • Take temperature if symptoms develop
      • Practice social distancing
      • Maintain 6 feet of distance from others
      • Stay out of crowded places
      • Follow CDC or local health department guidance if symptoms develop

3. Communication coordination

  • Establish a centralized mechanism to manage communication.
    • Depending on the size of the jurisdiction and communication needs, a small team may be needed to support the various activities and coordinate with external stakeholders (e.g., community leaders, media outlets).
    • The centralized mechanism should be linked with health department staff responsible for monitoring and analyzing the epidemic science and situation. This will ensure communications are accurate and up-to-date.

4. Policymaker advocacy

  • Develop a plan and materials for advocating for the necessary resources for a contact tracing program.
    • Prepare materials that make the case, and advocate for funding with policymakers to support contact tracing activities.

Implementation tools:

LIVING DOCUMENT This playbook is a dynamic, “living” document. Global knowledge pertaining to COVID-19 is rapidly evolving. Feedback and suggestions can be sent to [email protected].