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As Mass. Scales Back Contact Tracing Program, Frustrated Local Officials Say It's Been 'Unreliable'

Massachusetts has drastically scaled back its ambitious, statewide contact tracing effort to prevent spread of the coronavirus amid complaints from local health officials that it was unreliable.

The Boston Globe reports the state's multi-million dollar effort with Partners in Health, Boston-based nonprofit, now has roughly 700 staffers, down from some 1,900 when it launched to fanfare in April as the first of its kind in the nation.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday the effort simply had more staff than needed because the pandemic has been easing in Massachusetts. The rate of positive cases in the state has hovered around 2% since mid-June.

But local health officials complain the effort has been beset with computer glitches, inadequate training, and poor communication.

That's lead to delays in contacting infected residents, prompting some cities and towns to opt out of the initiative in favor of focusing on their own, in-house contact tracing efforts, the Globe reports.

Contact tracers identify anyone who may have been recently in contact with an infected person and help them get tested and quarantined to prevent larger outbreaks.

Partners in Health said it's rolling out improvements, including a new team of local health liaisons to improve communication with local health departments that'll start Monday. It's also setting a goal of reaching out to contacts of infected persons within 24 hours of receiving a new case.

The state has agreed to pay Partners in Health up to $55 million through December for the initiative, the Globe reported. Two other companies are also receiving a total of $39 million for related work.

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