Until the development of an effective vaccine, the success or otherwise of reducing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic hinges on whether individuals will engage in health-preserving and health-seeking practices, especially among vulnerable groups who have been, and will likely continue to be the most impacted by the pandemic. It is however not clear how messages about social distancing and personal hygiene effectively reach vulnerable groups. This research project will use experimental methods to design and implement innovative messaging programs in two vulnerable communities to study what determines the effectiveness or otherwise of public health information campaigns. In one community where information is sparse, the researchers will recruit influential people in those communities to broadcast the messages that will be designed. In dense information environments, the researchers will use physicians whose racial and ethnicity mirrors those of the vulnerable population which is the target of the information campaign. The researchers will compare the effectiveness of information campaigns in the two communities to evaluate the relative effectiveness of different approaches to public health messaging. In addition to its contribution to economic science, this research can also provide guidance on policies to reduce the spread of COVID19 and other pandemics. This research therefore improves the wellbeing of US citizens as well as help to establish the US as the global leader in public health messaging.
This research project will use a randomized control trial (RCT) method in two vulnerable communities to investigate what determines the effectiveness of public health messaging. The emphasis is on messages to change two health behaviors---social distancing and personal hygiene and mask-wearing. Messages in the two domains will also be framed in terms of private versus public benefits of behavioral change as well as social distancing versus hygiene and face covering. In addition, the PIs also vary the conduits through which the messaging is provided in the study. In sparse information vulnerable communities, the PIs will use agents identified as network nodes to disseminate the information while in dense information vulnerable communities, the PIs will use ethnically diverse physicians who represent the ethnic diversity of the community as the conduit to present the message. The PIs will then compare results from the two vulnerable groups, allowing them to see to what extend the effectiveness of information campaigns depend on how they are framed or who carries the message. The research design from this extremely strong multi-disciplinary research team is very innovative. In addition to economic science, this research project also contributes to graduate education as well as public information policies. This research therefore improves the health of US citizens as well as help to establish the US as the global leader in public health messaging.