COVID-19 Testing Programs Share How to Engage Diverse Communities in Public Health

Programs that distributed more than 2 million at-home COVID-19 tests to counties in North Carolina, Tennessee, and California with large underrepresented racial and ethnic populations were successful in getting test kits into the hands of community members and changing people’s behaviors in support of public health.

The programs, branded as Say Yes! COVID Test and You & Me COVID-Free, demonstrated a successful community-focused public health intervention that could be applied to future pandemics or health emergencies.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the at-home COVID-19 testing programs were led by the Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI), UNC Center for Health Equity Research (UNC-CHER), and Community-Campus Partnerships for Health.

Giselle Corbie

“Community partners were essential to the successful distribution of at-home COVID-19 test kits during a vital time in the pandemic,” said Giselle Corbie, M.D., leader of the programs at UNC-CHER. “We greatly appreciate our partners who worked tirelessly to help their neighbors receive tests when they needed them most. With their help, we were able to reach underserved and historically marginalized communities hit hardest by the pandemic.”

The program teams report three major findings:

  • Community partnerships are an effective way to distribute at-home COVID-19 tests and encourage testing;
  • COVID-19 testing can affect people’s behavior; and
  • Wastewater surveillance is a good way to monitor how much COVID-19 is spreading in a community.

Tests were provided to community members from Pitt County, N.C., Hamilton County, Tenn., and Merced County, Calif. Results were compiled from online surveys and anecdotal evidence from interviews with community partners. A summary of the results can be viewed in this animated video.

In addition, program leaders and community partners worked together to develop a toolkit to share lessons learned and guide future community-engaged public health programs in underrepresented communities.

The toolkit’s main goals are to highlight the importance of community engagement, outline how to go about fostering it, and describe the vital role of communities in improving public health both now and in the future.

Micky Cohen-Wolkowiez

“The toolkit represents the collective insights from our community partners and other team members who made the testing programs a success,” said Micky Cohen-Wolkowiez, M.D., Ph.D., leader of the programs at the DCRI. “We hope it will be a powerful tool for community leaders, academic researchers, project leaders, and communicators who are interested in engaging diverse communities in planning and implementing public health programs.”

For more information about the programs, please visit