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Coronavirus Pandemic: San Francisco Health Officials, UCSF Launch COVID-19 Contact Tracking System

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- San Francisco health officials on Wednesday unveiled an innovative high-tech system for tracking residents who have had contact with someone infected with COVID-19 to fulfill one of Gov. Gavin Newsom's key requirements for lifting the shelter in place order in the coming months.

During his Tuesday address on the state's coronavirus response, Newsom laid out his road map toward lifting the current lockdown order and a key tenet of the plan was that a tracking system for the virus be well established.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax announced the newly expanded contact tracing program, which uses technology to more efficiently communicate with anyone who has been in contact with people who tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

San Francisco officials said the eventual relaxing of shelter-in-place guidelines will demand more testing and better case tracking that the new system and accompanying app can provide.

"We can have people tested," says Mayor London Breed. "We can have people tested that may have been in contact with someone who has been infected." 

The Mayor said tracking every single positive test result is the goal.

"The app will allow people to keep track of their symptoms and to check in with people who are monitoring their condition," Breed explained.

The new program is a partnership between San Francisco's Department of Public Health, UCSF, and DIMAGI, a software company that has been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to digitize a workflow to support contact tracing and monitoring of people who are potentially infected with COVID-19.

"Today, we are laser focused on the health emergency in our city," said San Francisco Pubic Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax. "We are doing everything we can to reduce the spread of the virus in our community, protect vulnerable populations, health care workers and first responders. But even as we respond to outbreaks now, we are looking ahead."

The new program will engage with individuals who test positive for COVID-19 to identify whom they have had contact with in recent days.

Specially trained outreach workers will then follow up remotely with any individuals identified by the patient. The conversations will be voluntary, confidential, and culturally and linguistically appropriate. Immigration status will have no bearing on these conversations.

Over last weekend, a wide-ranging workforce individuals including San Francisco librarians, public health and city attorney staff members and UCSF medical students were trained on the new system.

"This collaboration serves as a powerful example of what we can achieve when we bring together the best minds across our public health system, with the City, academic medical centers and community partners," said Dr. Sam Hawgood, chancellor of UCSF. "UCSF and our county health partners have worked together on every major health crisis our city has faced, reaching back to 1873, including caring for victims of the 1906 earthquake, cholera, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS."

The workers will be checking for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 during a 14-day period. Individuals will be able to self-report symptoms via text, immediately alerting public health officials that follow up or testing may be required.

"We can have people tested that may have been in contact with someone who has been infected. Because our goal is to chase down all of those people and to either help them if they are COVID-19 (positive) and get them into quarantine or to basically give them the relief that they are not infected," Breed said during a news conference Wednesday at the city's Emergency Operations Center.

"From the beginning of this pandemic, we have been using contact tracing," Colfax said. "This is essential today and it's also essential as we ultimately move out of shelter-in-place orders to a new phase of fighting the pandemic."

The new program, which is currently in a testing phase, will augment current case investigation and contact tracing work. It already has contributed to San Francisco's efforts by contacting people who are close contacts and providing them with information about how to prevent further exposure.

Breed and Colfax also announced a new COVID-19 testing facility, open to the public by appointment only, in the city's South of Market neighborhood.

CityTestSF-SoMa will be located at 600 Seventh St. and opens Friday as a drive-through site. For now, the facility can test up to 200 people daily, with plans to increase capacity and offer walk-in service within the coming weeks, according to city officials.

San Franciscans experiencing COVID-19 symptoms can use the Baseline COVID-19 Program online screener and then make an appointment at

For now, however, the service will be focused on high-risk populations, in accordance with the California Department of Public Health's guidelines. Anyone who meets the criteria will be tested, regardless of whether they're uninsured or are undocumented.

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