The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic: the race to trace: contact tracing scale-up in San Francisco-early lessons learned

J Public Health Policy. 2021 Jun;42(2):211-221. doi: 10.1057/s41271-021-00285-y. Epub 2021 Jun 4.


In order to effectively control spread of coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), it is essential that jurisdictions have the capacity to rapidly trace close contacts of each and every case. Best practice guidance on how to implement such programs is urgently needed. We describe the early experience in the City and County of San Francisco (CCSF), where the City's Department of Health expanded contact tracing capability in anticipation of changes in San Francisco's 'shelter in place' order between April and June 2020. Important prerequisites to successful scale-up included a rapid expansion of the COVID-19 response workforce, expansion of testing capability, and other containment resources. San Francisco's scale-up offers a model for how other jurisdictions can rapidly mobilize a workforce. We underscore the importance of an efficient digital case management system, effective training, and expansion of supportive service programs for those in quarantine or isolation, and metrics to ensure continuous performance improvement.

Keywords: COVID-19; Contact tracing; Containment; Epidemiology.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / diagnosis
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • COVID-19 Testing / statistics & numerical data
  • Contact Tracing / methods*
  • Data Management / organization & administration
  • Efficiency, Organizational
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Public Health Administration / methods*
  • Quarantine / psychology
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • San Francisco / epidemiology
  • Social Work / organization & administration