BOSTON (CBS) – It’s an ambitious plan and the first of its kind in the country. Hundreds of people across Massachusetts are chasing down the coronavirus, one phone call at a time. Among them, David S. Novak, a certified disease intervention specialist and part of an army of workers mapping out the spread of the virus.
“Hi my name is David Novak and I’m from the community tracing collaborative,” said Novak as he recited the script patients will likely hear when called.
Earlier this month, the Baker-Polito Administration announced the creation of the collaborative with Partners in Health.
The state is investing $44 million to hire and train 1,000 people, who then in turn will help trace the contacts of COVID-19 patients and create isolation strategies.
“We really do believe that to give people comfort and confidence, that we’re doing all we can to contain the virus, we need to have a very significant contact tracing program in place,” said Governor Charlie Baker Thursday. “From our point of view that’s a must-do with respect to anything that looks like a re-opening of the Commonwealth.”
State officials say the work has already begun. Boston, Worcester and Brockton are among the 13 cities and towns already online with the tracing collaborative. By week’s end close to 600 staff will be hired. And more than 600 medical students are working with local Boards of Health. So far, of the 2,008 outbound calls, workers have achieved a 41.5% connection rate.
And this is how it works. If a person tests positive for the coronavirus, they’ll get a call with the prefix 833 or 857, the phone will say the call is from the “MA COVID Team.”
“We check in with them about what’s it like being at home in quarantine. And how they’re feeling. We then talk to them about their contacts, people they’ve been in contact with, specifically two days before their symptoms started,” Novak told WBZ-TV.
Community health workers will then call those contacts and inform them they’ve possibly been exposed.
“We let that contact know they’ve been exposed, without saying who it was, and then prioritize them for testing,” said Novak.
Participating is voluntary but officials say the public health approach works.
“Centering the experience about understanding covid in the community has to be about care and compassion,” said Dr. Joia Mukherjee.
Dr. Mukherjee is the chief medical officer at Partners in Health and at the heart of the Commonwealth’s operation.
The Boston based global non-profit is known for its work in fighting infectious diseases.
“In countries that have been able to re-open, countries like Germany, South Korea, China, they actually chased down the virus,” Dr. Mukherjee said. “It’s impractical not to do everything we can because we are living in such a paralyzed state. This gives people hope, it gives them a way to participate and it creates new jobs.”