Philanthropy in Action: Our COVID-19 Response

Thanks to the generous support of donors to our COVID general fund, UCSF launched a rapid response to the pandemic in March 2020. Our health experts continue to provide vaccinations, track new variants of the virus, connect disadvantaged patients to timely testing and assistance, pursue innovative research, and much more. Read on for a summary of UCSF’s donor-supported response to COVID-19.

Searching for Scientific Solutions

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

  • Guiding safe reopening. UCSF, the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, and Stanford University have joined forces on two large studies that will provide information crucial to the ongoing management of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, UCSF researchers have launched the Collaborative to Advise on Re-opening Education Safely (CARES), a project that offers detailed, timely guidance for school reopening in the Bay Area.
  • Identifying new strains and preparing for future pandemics. UCSF researchers have been using genetic data to track different strains of SARS-CoV-2. The information helps public health officials monitor the spread of the virus and assess whether new genetic mutations are linked to differences in COVID-19 symptoms or severity. Scientists at UCSF and the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub have also launched a unique project designed to help experts everywhere identify new infectious diseases faster – making them much easier to contain in the future.
  • Evaluating the accuracy of rapid tests. Scientists at UCSF and the Biohub have compared the results of a faster, less expensive SARS-CoV-2 test to those of PCR tests – the most reliable method. Their findings suggest that the 15-minute test, BinaxNOW, is accurate enough to be used exclusively in community testing efforts, given the urgent need to identify those most likely to be infectious. Millions of the rapid tests are now used by public health departments, schools, and workplaces across the country, and consumers can even purchase the tests at drugstores.
  • Discovering potential treatments. UCSF researchers have 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 findings, published in January, revealed that plitidepsin, a multiple myeloma drug used in Australia, is almost 30 times more potent against the novel coronavirus than remdesivir; the pharmaceutical company that first extracted plitidepsin is now testing it in a clinical trial of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Spain. In addition, UCSF researchers have developed a synthetic nanobody that stops the novel coronavirus from infecting human cells and might help patients by reducing their viral load.
  • Studying the risks of COVID-19 during pregnancy. A nationwide study at UCSF – the largest in the country – aims to answer urgent questions that will help improve health care for pregnant women and newborns during the pandemic. The team recently found that 1 in 4 women who test positive for the virus while pregnant experience symptoms (mostly mild) that last longer than two months. Fortunately, infants born to women with COVID-19 have not faced an increased risk of negative health outcomes.

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:

  • 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. UCSF and its partners connect low-income people who have tested positive to health care, food, and other supportive services.
  • Setting up vaccination campaigns for success. UCSF’s latest community testing efforts have featured a new, secondary goal: scaling up vaccination. The research team surveyed people about their attitudes and plans related to COVID-19 vaccination, and the resulting insights informed efforts to reach high-risk populations and overcome misinformation and fears about the vaccines.
  • 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 often lack the resources to provide intensive, hospital-based care on a massive scale.
  • 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.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.
  • Responding to the Navajo Nation outbreak. Despite the Navajo Nation’s remote location, the US American Indian reservation had the nation’s highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate during the early months of the pandemic. This has created 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.

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


Initial Response: Protecting Frontline Workers and Scaling Up Testing and 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.
  • Secured 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.
  • Helped 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.


For more on UCSF’s efforts to quickly expand testing and care for COVID-19 while protecting health workers, see:


Last Update: September 8, 2021

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.