New data shows how effective contact tracing is across Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco is quickly becoming a model example across the country when it comes to containing COVID-19.

Aside from an early lockdown, much of the city's success stems from its robust contact program.

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Luis Hernandez is one of 250 contact tracers and case investigators working for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. His job is to call people who tested positive for COVID-19 and trace their close contacts.

These contacts are people who the infected person was within six feet of for more than 15 minutes.

"We always assure everyone the information they give us is confidential," Hernandez said.

Not only confidential, but quick.

After a positive test result, the vast majority of people will receive a call within 24 hours.

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"We are very confident at this time we can handle any surge that comes forward," said Dr. Darpun Sachdev, who leads the department's contact tracing program.

Currently in San Francisco, more than 83 percent of coronavirus cases and contacts are reached on a regular basis. That's right on par with Santa Clara County, currently reaching more than 80 percent of cases and contacts. Napa County is slightly higher with 85 percent. Solano County is a 74 percent. Alameda County is around 50 percent.

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"There have been times when we've received so many case reports that we've not been able to reach everybody within one day," Sachdev said. "This happened in the summer when we had a massive surge of cases."

According to Dr. Sachdev, that's not predicted to happen for the 3rd wave - at least not in San Francisco.

She explains her team is focusing more time analyzing past cases to prevent future outbreaks.

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"By looking backwards we believe we will be better able to prevent clusters... tracing upstream," she said. "To see if someone attended a large gathering where many more people need to be notified."

The latest data indicates that strategy is working.

In September, more than 1,600 COVID cases resulted in tracing more than 1,700 contacts. Close to 60 percent of those contacts then got tested. That's a significant jump from four months ago.

The only hurdle as Hernandez explains is connecting with contacts in the Latin X community disproportionately affected.

"They are concerned, we assure them that the health department is only interested in their health," he said. "It's a sanctuary city, so none of the information is reported to immigration."

The San Francisco Dept. of Public Health has expanded their network of contact tracers to be 40 percent bilingual Spanish speakers. Their goal is to reach 50 percent by the end of the year.

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