Audit: California’s Contact Tracing Was a Total Bust

In April 2020, California unveiled what was supposed to be an extraordinary COVID-19 contact tracing effort. UCSF infectious disease specialist Mike Reid, who led the program, described it as “our Dunkirk moment.” As it turns out, it was more like our Waterloo.

A new report from State Auditor Elaine Howle says California never assembled the “army” of contact tracers it had promised. We ended up with less than half of the expected volunteers — 12,100 instead of 31,400; 2,262 trained by the state instead of 10,000.

It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Per the audit, 10,000 state-trained volunteers would have been able to handle about 5,000 infections a day. At the height of the winter surge, the state was averaging 25,000.

“The sheer number of cases has overwhelmed local health jurisdictions' contact tracing efforts," Howle wrote.

The California Department of Public Health received $467 million for the contact tracing plan.

Health officials were always at a disadvantage. As County News noted at the time, the public was hesitant to cooperate with contact tracers from the start. That complicated the process.

On the flip side, virus testing appears to be one area where California outperformed expectations. Howle’s report praised state officials for surpassing their testing goals by 1.5 million in November and 4.9 million in December.

Read the full report here.


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