Philanthropy in Action: Our COVID-19 Response

Thanks to the generous support of our donors, UCSF launched a rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March. We are conducting groundbreaking studies that will help inform reopening; collaborating with public officials and local partners to reduce the spread of the virus and its impact, especially in high-risk communities; and supporting safe frontline health care.

Searching for Scientific Solutions

UCSF researchers are tackling a variety of urgent questions related to the pandemic. They are:

  • Diagnosing COVID-19 in under an hour. Scientists at UCSF have created an inexpensive new test that can diagnose COVID-19 in under an hour. If approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it could help officials rapidly increase testing for active infections. The developers hope to produce a kit that can be used for on-site testing in a variety of locations, from airports to schools.
  • Improving antibody tests . Antibodies are useful for detecting past COVID-19 infections and helping scientists understand how to achieve lasting immunity. UCSF researchers are developing antibody-testing techniques that are faster and cheaper than those currently available—with highly accurate results available in just 30 minutes. They are also studying which antibodies are most effective at wiping out the coronavirus, with the hope of creating effective vaccines and using engineered antibodies to treat COVID-19.
  • Guiding safe reopening. UCSF, the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, and Stanford University are joining forces on two large studies that will provide information crucial to the management of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first study tracks how widespread COVID-19 is in the Bay Area over time. The second study estimates the rate at which health workers with regular exposure to COVID-19 patients develop antibodies – and whether those antibodies prevent the workers from getting sick.
  • Identifying potential treatments. UCSF researchers recently identified more than 60 compounds that might help stop the replication of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the human body. Their latest laboratory tests found several drugs show promise in blocking the virus. UCSF scientists are also testing whether antibodies from people who have recovered from COVID-19 can help hospitalized patients fight off active infections.
  • Studying the risks of COVID-19 during pregnancy. A nationwide study at UCSF aims to answer urgent questions that will help improve health care for pregnant women and newborns during the pandemic. Because black women in the US die during pregnancy or childbirth at three to four times the rate of white women, the research team is working with community groups to recruit more women of color.
  • Understanding the spread of the virus. UCSF researchers have been using genetic data to track different strains of SARS-CoV-2. While it is not clear that genetic differences in the virus lead to any differences in COVID-19 symptoms or severity, the information helps public health officials monitor the spread of the virus. UCSF researchers are also examining the dynamics of COVID-19 infection in children’s summer camps to inform school reopening policies.

For more on UCSF research to conquer COVID-19, visit:

Prioritizing High-Risk Communities

UCSF has launched new efforts to help those most vulnerable to COVID-19. We are:

Increasing resources to support low-income patients. Shortly after the US outbreak began, UCSF opened a new clinic to meet the needs of homeless people and other underserved populations at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. We have also covered the expenses of uninsured patients exposed to COVID-19 and provided high-risk, low-income patients with private transport for testing.

  • Expanding outreach, education, and testing for Latinx, Black, and other vulnerable communities in the Bay Area. UCSF researchers are working with officials and community organizations to test for COVID-19 in low-income neighborhoods throughout San Francisco and Oakland. Latinx people have suffered the highest rates of COVID-19 in the Bay Area, and studies show Black people face increased risks from COVID-19 across the country. Experts attribute the trend to inequalities ranging from overcrowded housing to low-wage jobs that can’t be done from home. The UCSF projects connect low-income people who have tested positive to health care, food, and other supportive services.
  • Improving contact tracing. Contact tracing – quickly tracking down everyone with whom a COVID-positive person has had close contact, so they can get tested – can reduce the spread of the virus. But some people have hesitations about sharing contact information with government officials. To help address this challenge, UCSF has launched a new contact-tracing program in partnership with organizations based in the Mission and Bayview neighborhoods. Together, they are deploying trained health workers, many of whom speak Spanish and/or live in the same communities as the COVID-positive people they will reach out to for contact tracing. The project aims to improve contact tracing by increasing trust and timely communication with patients.
  • Responding to the Navajo Nation outbreak. Despite the Navajo Nation’s remote location, the US American Indian reservation now has the nation’s highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate. This poses a crisis for Navajo Nation, as many residents live far from well-staffed medical centers or emergency services like ambulances. More than 35 physicians and nurses from UCSF have volunteered in hospitals that have experienced an influx of patients from Navajo Nation.
  • Strengthening pandemic response in low-income countries. UCSF's Global Health Group has launched an initiative to mitigate the widespread devastation that COVID-19 threatens to unleash in low-income countries in Asia and Africa. Because widespread testing will be difficult for most developing countries to afford, the team is identifying emerging hot spots, working with community-based organizations to gather local data on COVID-19 symptoms. In addition, the team is studying which treatments might be most effective against COVID-19 in low-income countries, which lack the resources to provide intensive, hospital-based care on a massive scale.

For more on UCSF’s efforts to meet the needs of high-risk groups, visit:

Initial Response: Scaling Up Testing and Medical Care

Philanthropy fueled UCSF’s early efforts to safely care for all patients with COVID-19 complications and prepare for a potential influx of new cases. Shortly after the outbreak began, UCSF:

  • Created a COVID-19 testing lab from scratch. UCSF collaborators launched a new lab in Mission Bay in just eight days. The facility now processes thousands of diagnostic tests from Bay Area public health departments for free.
  • Set up a new facility dedicated to COVID-19 cases, plus four new respiratory clinics across San Francisco. To prepare for a potential surge of severe cases, we worked with our partners to open a new, 40-bed COVID-19 facility at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital.
  • Created separate spaces within all UCSF clinics for COVID-19 quarantine and recovery. This reduces the risk of transmission to patients who still need care for other health challenges.

For more on UCSF’s work to quickly expand testing and care for COVID-19, see:

Protecting Health Care Workers

Donations have helped UCSF protect health care staff both near and far from COVID-19 in many ways, including:

  • Personal protective equipment. UCSF and its supporters established a new supply chain for personal protective equipment (PPE) shortly after the pandemic began – and quickly distributed more than 100,000 protective masks to other health care centers in need.
  • Resources to help medical personnel and their families stay healthy . Donations have helped UCSF offer child care and hotel rooms for frontline workers who need these resources most – especially those with vulnerable family members who must be protected from exposure to COVID-19.
  • Solutions to the practical challenges of caring for COVID-19 patients. When a COVID-19 patient’s ventilator needs adjustment, health care staff have to enter an isolation room – and the safety protocol takes precious minutes away from other patients who need urgent care. A team of UCSF experts is developing a way to modify the ventilators so they can be controlled from another room, saving time and reducing PPE waste.

For more on frontline workers and our efforts to keep them safe, see:


Last Update: August 6, 2020

Thank You

Our team could not have accomplished so much in such a short time without the partnership and support of our donors. We deeply appreciate all contributions to UCSF’s efforts to rapidly reduce the harm caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic.


Learn More

Find the latest news on UCSF’s COVID-19 initiatives here.

Download in-depth donor reports on UCSF’s COVID-19 response:

August 6

June 15

May 11

April 10