Background: Effective public health messaging has been necessary throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but stakeholders have struggled to communicate critical information to the public, especially in different types of locations such as urban and rural areas. Objective: This study aimed to identify opportunities to improve COVID-19 messages for community distribution in rural and urban settings and to summarize the findings to inform future messaging. Methods: We purposively sampled by region (urban or rural) and participant type (general public or health care professional) to survey participants about their opinions on 4 COVID-19 health messages. We designed open-ended survey questions and analyzed the data using pragmatic health equity implementation science approaches. Following the qualitative analysis of the survey responses, we designed refined COVID-19 messages incorporating participant feedback and redistributed them via a short survey. Results: In total, 67 participants consented and enrolled: 31 (46%) community participants from the rural Southeast Missouri Bootheel, 27 (40%) community participants from urban St Louis, and 9 (13%) health care professionals from St Louis. Overall, we found no qualitative differences between the responses of our urban and rural samples to the open-ended questions. Participants across groups wanted familiar COVID-19 protocols, personal choice in COVID-19 preventive behaviors, and clear source information. Health care professionals contextualized their suggestions within the specific needs of their patients. All groups suggested practices consistent with health-literate communications. We reached 83% (54/65) of the participants for message redistribution, and most had overwhelmingly positive responses to the refined messages. Conclusions: We suggest convenient methods for community involvement in the creation of health messages by using a brief web-based survey. We identified areas of improvement for future health messaging, such as reaffirming the preventive practices advertised early in a crisis, framing messages such that they allow for personal choice of preventive behavior, highlighting well-known source information, using plain language, and crafting messages that are applicable to the readers’ circumstances.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere39697
JournalJMIR Human Factors
StatePublished - 2023


  • COVID-19
  • communication
  • dissemination
  • health equity
  • health information
  • health messaging
  • implementation
  • messaging
  • prevention
  • rural populations
  • urban populations


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