Initial Results Reported
To contain the spread of COVID -19, the MA COVID-19 Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC) was enacted to conduct contact tracing through a collaborative arrangement among the Office of Massachusetts Governor Baker, Partners in Health (PIH) a non-profit association, with the Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard, in early April. CTC is a partnership of PIH, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority (CCA) and MA COVID -19 Command Center.
PIH has led the contact tracing effort with its recruitment, training and deployment of teams of college public health students and online hiring advertisements directed to high school graduates. The tracing initiative operates in English, as well as communicates and publishes information in five foreign languages: Spanish, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, simplified Chinese, and Vietnamese. The tracers operate in teams of one investigator and five active tracers. The tracers locate persons who have tested positive and persons with whom they may have had contact for 15 minutes or longer. These individuals are reached by telephone, which displays “MA COVID-19 Team” on the recipient’s Caller ID from phone exchange codes 833 or 857. However, for the call to be identified in this manner requires that the recipient have a paid Caller-ID feature activated for incoming calls.
According to one press release on Mass.gov, “tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents have participated in the contact tracing. The 1600 tracers of the Tracing Collaborative have reached close to 18,000 confirmed cases and established more than 16,000 of their contacts since calls began on April 12…” The median number of contacts reported per each confirmed case of COVID-19 (initially estimates expected 10 per each positive case), continues to remain at approximately two, which officials attribute in part to effective social distancing measures.
The PIH tracing teams have been augmented by enlisting expanded participation from Community Health Centers, both of which built upon initial tracing done by the Commonwealth’s local boards of health. Individuals having direct contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 are assisted with connection to support and resources necessary for quarantine and for identification of any other close contacts who may have been exposed.
At the start of a May press briefing, Governor Baker urged the need for greater public cooperation in the effort to contact trace possible others affected with the viral infection, when he noted a decrease in the number of people answering “MA COVID -19 Team” calls.
Increased and Expanded COVID-19 Testing
The contact tracing effort collaborates with the state’s community health center test sites, pop-up tent sites and community hospital COVID-19 testing sites. As of the close of April these programs extended free testing to any resident, with or without insurance or symptoms, in designated, high-infection-rate target areas such as Cambridge, Chelsea, Somerville, Malden, Lowell, and Springfield. These sites do require a phone call before residents head to the location. Many of these sites may use the Point-Of- Care (POC) antibody/antigen test which provides results quicker than the standard PCR test. Additionally, across the state, as many as 80 privately run hospitals and for-fee urgent care clinics have begun COVID-19 testing, by appointment, and with insurance coverage for residents of the Commonwealth regardless of being symptomless, as of May 4, 2020.