Massachusetts ends its COVID-19 contact tracing program

Lorna Kiplagat at work on her laptop at her home. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Lorna Kiplagat at work for the state's contact tracing program on her laptop at her home. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Massachusetts is ending its program that tracks down people who were in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

The Boston Globe reports there are no more state-funded workers to help track new infections, so local health departments have been advised by the state to only do contact tracing for COVID-19 cases in group settings where infections are more likely to spread rapidly. That includes health care facilities, homeless shelters, nursing homes, daycare centers and schools.

Health officials are shifting resources to testing and vaccination outreach as the number of cases and hospitalizations increase.

Timothy McDonald, Needham’s health director, questioned whether this is the right time to end most contact tracing since the variant omicron is spreading. McDonald plans to continue contacting all Needham residents who test positive and tracking their contacts into January.

At the beginning of the pandemic, with thousands of cases reported daily in Massachusetts, local health departments were overwhelmed by the task of contract tracing. The state launched its contract tracing collaborative in April 2020 and asked Boston-based Partners in Health to lead the initiative.

The Partners-led program made more than 2.7 million calls to residents at a total cost of about $158 million, according to the state. Their work was expected to be finished Friday.

Phoebe Walker, director of Franklin County’s Cooperative Public Health Service, said that at this point, most Massachusetts residents know what to do if they are infected and funding could be put to better use doing vaccination outreach.

The state is encouraging residents to use MassNotify, a tool that can be used on cellphones to alert people that they may have been exposed. About a quarter of the state's residents enabled it on their phones so far, state officials said.



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