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Coronavirus In Massachusetts: Baker Announces Creation Of COVID-19 Community Tracing Collaborative

BOSTON (CBS) -- Massachusetts is stepping up its efforts to trace cases of the coronavirus with a first-in-the-nation tracking initiative. Gov. Charlie Baker announced Friday that a COVID-19 community tracing collaborative between the state and the nonprofit Partners In Health will be up and running by the end of the month.

"There is tracing happening now, but this program that we're talking about today is a much more robust, targeted approach that we have, to be highly effective at slowing the spread of this highly infectious disease," Baker said in a news conference. "It's going to be a big part of our ongoing effort to manage and fight our way through COVID-19."

Baker said Massachusetts is the only state in the country putting together a tracking program like this. A virtual call center staffed with about 1,000 contact tracers will contact coronavirus patients to learn about their recent activities and make sure they are not spreading the virus.

"The call center will get contact information for as many people as possible, that they have come in contact with, and potentially exposed," Baker said. "People will be contacted and informed, so that they can stay healthy, isolate when appropriate, and prevent further spread."

Baker said Boston-based Partners-In-Health is a "proven player with a global reputation" with a track record of public health interventions that have made a difference in responding to previous epidemics like Ebola. The organization will handle the hiring, training and supervision of the virtual call center.

Partners-In-Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joia Mukherjee said the goal is to "reach out to people and humanely let them know that they are at risk, and you really help them to isolate themselves." She said it's important to reach out to the many people who may be spreading coronavirus while appearing asymptomatic.

"We believe that people want to know if they have been in contact with this disease," she said.

Community tracing could help identify where the worst outbreaks are happening, Baker said.

"One of the things that we believe will become doable in a reasonable way, once we start ramping this up, is the ability to do a little more predictive modeling about hotspots," he said.

Massachusetts has reported a total of 8,966 coronavirus cases and 154 deaths as of Thursday.

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