More than 60 percent of Mass. contact tracing calls answered

BOSTON — It’s been one month since Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to implement a comprehensive statewide contact tracing program.

The nonprofit organization Partners in Health is uniting the efforts of local boards of health across the state, aiming to investigate every case of coronavirus transmission.

Dr. Joia Mukherjee, chief medical officer with Partners in Health, told Boston 25 that the statewide strategy has reached more than 6,000 people so far.

She said more than 60 percent the calls made by contact tracers have been answered. The goal is to reach more people in the coming weeks.

“We’d like to have a higher rate. We’re still missing 30 to 40 percent of the people who aren’t picking up the phone,” said Dr. Joia Mukherjee. “Once people do pick up, they’re very receptive to talking about this.”

Contact tracers have been working to keep tabs on those who test positive for COVID-19. Case investigators directly reach out to infected people and then attempt to call everyone they’ve had close contact with.

“On most phones, it will say Mass COVID,” said Dr. Mukherjee. “This is not about tracking your information or where you live. It’s trying to help you and help those around you."

During the call, contact tracers inform people about possible exposure and offer isolation resources.

“If people can’t quarantine safely, and they’re worried about their families, we find a place for them to go temporarily," explained Dr. Mukherjee. “There’s no forcing people into quarantine."

Gov. Charlie Baker originally projected that infected people would probably have about 10 close contacts who needed to be reached out to. However, the current average so far in Massachusetts is only two or three.

“That makes it easier to follow up with contacts to make sure they are safe," said Dr. Mukherjee.

Dr. Mukherjee believes this targeted approach will be even more critical when the state begins to reopen.

“People talk about reopening as if it’s an on and off switch. It’s not. It’s really about trying to understand the dynamics of transmission," she said. “That will be important when it comes to reopening schools and businesses and parks."

About 1,000 people have been hired to work on the state’s contact tracing program. The majority are contact tracers working to connect the dots while a smaller group is working on connecting people with resources.

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