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Initial COVID-19 containment in the United States focused on limiting mobility, including school and workplace closures. However, these interventions have had enormous societal and economic costs. Here, we demonstrate the feasibility of an alternative control strategy, test-trace-quarantine: routine testing of primarily symptomatic individuals, tracing and testing their known contacts, and placing their contacts in quarantine. We perform this analysis using Covasim, an open-source agent-based model, which has been calibrated to detailed demographic, mobility, and epidemiological data for the Seattle region from January through June 2020. With current levels of mask use and schools remaining closed, we find that high but achievable levels of testing and tracing are sufficient to maintain epidemic control even under a return to full workplace and community mobility and with low vaccine coverage. The easing of mobility restrictions in June 2020 and subsequent scale-up of testing and tracing programs through September provided real-world validation of our predictions. Although we show that test-trace-quarantine can control the epidemic in both theory and practice, its success is contingent on high testing and tracing rates, high quarantine compliance, relatively short testing and tracing delays, and moderate to high mask use. Thus, in order for test-trace-quarantine to control transmission with a return to high mobility, strong performance in all aspects of the program is required.

Original publication




Journal article


Nature communications

Publication Date





Institute for Disease Modeling, Global Health Division, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle, WA, USA.


Humans, Contact Tracing, Quarantine, United States, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2