Partners in Health to lead "first in nation" contact tracing program for Mass

Massachusetts officials will launch a large-scale contact tracing program with the help of a nonprofit health organization, aiming by the end of the month to have about 1,000 people investigating and recording every instance of potential coronavirus transmission when cases across the state soar into the tens of thousands.

Gov. Charlie Baker described the in-the-works Community Tracing Collaborative, developed alongside the Partners in Health group, as a first-in-the-nation effort to ramp up contact tracing to a scale viable enough to succeed even when the rate of new cases surpasses the state's current tracing capacity.

"There is tracing happening now, but this program we're talking about launching today is a much more robust, targeted approach that we hope can be highly effective at slowing the spread of this highly infectious disease," Baker said Friday.

Partners in Health will provide staff and expertise to oversee the initiative. Accenture and Salesforce will contribute logistical and technical support. Dr. Joia Mukherjee, PIH's chief medical officer, said the new collaborative will have close to 1,000 people — many of whom will be hired and trained in the coming weeks — reaching out digitally to Massachusetts residents who contracted COVID-19.

Knowledge about who those infected may have contacted, she said, is crucial to slowing the spread of the highly infectious disease. Both Mukherjee and Baker forcefully argued that late April will not be too late to expand contact tracing efforts, even with almost 9,000 cases already confirmed in Massachusetts as of Thursday.

"It will be hard, and we are daunted by the challenge, but we are undaunted by the moral need to stop the epidemic," Mukherjee said. "So is it too late? It cannot be too late. We need to mitigate the suffering, now."