Perfect as the enemy of good: tracing transmissions with low-sensitivity tests to mitigate SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks

Lancet Microbe. 2021 May;2(5):e219-e224. doi: 10.1016/S2666-5247(21)00004-5. Epub 2021 Mar 12.


Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, governments and individuals have attempted a wide variety of strategies to limit the damage of the pandemic on human lives, population health, and economies. Contact tracing has been a commonly used strategy, and various approaches have been proposed and attempted. We summarise some methods of contact tracing and testing, considering the resources demanded by each and how features of SARS-CoV-2 transmission affect their effectiveness. We also propose an approach focusing on tracing transmission events, which can be particularly effective when superspreading events play a large role in transmission. Accounting for the best available evidence on a pathogen and for the availability of resources can make control strategies more effective, even if they are not perfect.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Contact Tracing
  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • SARS-CoV-2*