UCSF Partners with State to Develop Public Health Workforce for COVID-19 Response

Training Developed for San Francisco Will Be Offered to Counties Across California

By Laura Kurtzman

Two people wearing masks and elbow bumping

UC San Francisco is launching a workforce training and technical assistance program on May 6, 2020, in partnership with the California Department of Public Health, to facilitate the training of thousands of individuals across the state in public health techniques and strategies, including contact tracing, case investigation and administration, to limit the ongoing spread of COVID-19. The move represents the next stage of the state’s effort to bring the COVID-19 epidemic under control and prepare the communities for a safe emergence from shelter in place.

UCSF experts in public health will work with the state’s 58 county and three city health departments to deliver the training to the candidates identified by these local jurisdictions, aiming to train up to 3,000 individuals a week through the beginning of July. The candidates will be redeployed civil servants and volunteers, and they will be paid once the work begins.

The move follows UCSF’s initiative, launched just over two weeks ago, to provide free COVID-19 testing analysis and results for all 58 departments of public health across the state. The effort will empower communities statewide to initiate testing programs over the coming weeks and months, and is already having an impact. The work is part of UCSF’s long history of close collaboration with the city of San Francisco and the state of California to address public health crises.

The new UCSF Pandemic Workforce Training Academy, launched with an $8.7 million state contract, is based on a model UCSF developed with the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH). The 20-hour, primarily online training program will be used by county health departments around the state to train these workers to communicate effectively with California’s highly diverse population. These workers will help link newly infected people to services so they can be safely isolated and treated until they are no longer infectious. They also will find their close contacts and provide support for these individuals to self-quarantine until they know they are not infected.

George Rutherford, MD, professor and chief of the infectious disease and global epidemiology divisions in the department of epidemiology and biostatistics and director of the Prevention and Public Health Group at UCSF, is the principal investigator on the state contract and will be working with colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

“Rapid and efficient contact tracing, along with sophisticated epidemic surveillance and widespread testing, are key parts of the public health strategy we must have in place before we can safely allow more businesses to reopen,” he said. “Done effectively, these strategies will help to break the chain of transmission and enable people to return to a more normal life.”

UCSF’s expertise in disease surveillance draws heavily on the university’s experience leading public health campaigns against diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV in other parts of the world that have far fewer resources than the United States. It also reflects efforts closer to home.

“Confronting disease epidemics, including SARS, Ebola and HIV/AIDS and other public health crises, including homelessness, is part of UCSF’s public health mission,” said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood. “Historically, and today, we are committed to working with the City of San Francisco and the State of California to combat threats to our population’s health.”

The online training that UCSF initially developed for the SFDPH focused on training City librarians, assessors and attorneys sidelined by the lockdown, along with retired public health professionals and UCSF medical students. In three weeks, the UCSF team has trained 240 contact tracers and 110 of them are now working.

The new statewide training primarily will be conducted online but includes live sessions with instructors and takes about 20 hours over the course of five days. Following their completion of coursework, trainees will begin to work under supervision, and will receive follow-up training by UCSF public health experts, if needed. Contact tracers will receive training in epidemiology, principles of contact tracing, and infectious disease containment strategies. Case investigators will be trained in case investigation, contact tracing, interviewing skills, health coaching, and maintaining confidentiality.

The training includes videos and tests that trainees do on their own time, as well as live sessions with trainers when they gather together on the online platform. There, they do practice calls with actors playing the part of "contacts," which are people who have come into contact with an infected person. Next, small groups of trainees listen while an expert conducts a call with a real contact; finally, they conduct their own calls, while experts listen to them.

“This is a huge opportunity to seriously invest in the public health workforce in California,” said Michael Reid, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at UCSF who is leading the training effort along with colleagues at UCSF’s Institute for Global Health Sciences (IGHS).

“The staff and faculty within IGHS are good at rapidly implementing programs at scale with limited resources and understanding surveillance and epidemiology, and it just turns out those three things are totally relevant to this particular moment,” he said.

The core team at UCSF includes staff from the Center for Global Health Diplomacy, Delivery and Economics, Global Strategic Information, Preterm Birth InitiativeEast Africa, California Prevention Training Center, Center for Excellence in Primary Care, and Curry International Tuberculosis Center.

The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) is exclusively focused on the health sciences and is dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. UCSF Health, which serves as UCSF's primary academic medical center, includes top-ranked specialty hospitals and other clinical programs, and has affiliations throughout the Bay Area.