‘Pick up the phone’: Baker urges residents to answer calls from contact tracers after Mass. sees spike in positive coronavirus tests

BOSTON (WHDH) - Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday urged all residents to answer their phones if they are contacted by the Community Tracing Collaborative after Massachusetts saw a spike in positive coronavirus tests. His message was simple: answer the call, do something positive, and stop the disease.

On Wednesday, 6,300 COVID-19 tests were administered across the Commonwealth with 28 percent of those tests returning positive results, Baker said during a news conference at the State House. Since the start of the outbreak, there have 340,000 tests administered, making Massachusetts among the top five testers in the United States.

The jump in positive test results comes after Massachusetts recorded a string of days where positive results hovered below 16 percent.

“Over the past several days, this number has been trending down, closer to 10% to 20%, so we’re obviously going to take a close look at the data,” Baker said.

Baker noted that the increased number of positive tests may be due to where the tests were administered and who was given a test.

“We believe at the end of the day that the more we test, the more we know,” Baker said. “That’s especially true when you test in places that you’re particularly concerned about the populations involved, which is why we test in hot spots.”

Baker did say that the state is making progress with respect to coronavirus-related hospitalizations. As of Thursday, only five percent of all infected individuals were receiving care in a hospital.

In order for a phased reopening of the economy to begin on May 18, Baker said that the state needs to see “sustained downward trends” in a number of coronavirus statistics, including positive test rates, hospitalization rates, fatalities, and hospital surge capacity.

“Yesterday’s numbers are evidence that despite some signs of trending in the right direction, we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to getting to the point where we feel like we have our hands and our arms around this virus,” Baker said. “As we see the curve flatten, we can begin thinking about permitting some businesses to resume operations.”

In order to reach that point, Baker said a major emphasis must be placed on enforcing contact tracing.

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“To bring the fight fully to the virus and get ahead of it, we also need to identify confirmed cases and the people that might have been exposed to their so-called close contacts,” Baker said. “That’s where contact tracing comes in.”

In April, Baker announced the creation of a COVID-19 Community Tracing Collaborative. Over the course of the last few weeks, 1,000 contact tracers — with the support of  80 local boards of health – have helped Massachusetts become the first state to identify more than 10,000 infected individuals, reach out to people who they may have come in contact with, and support those who have tested positive.

“We believe this tracing program will be a key element toward not only stopping the spread of COVID-19 but also toward understanding where the virus is, who it has infected, and where to invest in hot spots if we need to,” Baker said.

Whoever tests positive for COVID-19 will receive a call from their local board of health or a contact tracer. They’ll then receive information on how to safely self-isolate as they recover, Baker explained.

“That might be food if you haven’t been to the store in a while,” Baker said. “We’ll also ask you who you have been in contact with for the previous couple of days before you started to have symptoms or a couple of days before your positive test if you didn’t have any symptoms.”

Picking up the phone during this stage of the pandemic is vitally important, Baker stressed.

“We need those people to pick up the phone. We want then to know why they should stay home, and we want to make sure they also have what they need to isolate and quarantine effectively,” Baker said. “If you get a call or text form the MA COVID team, it’s vital that you take that call…this call is your chance to fight back against COVID-19.”

Tens of thousands of Bay Staters have participated in contact tracing since April. The collaborative has connected with 14,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and reached out to more than 7,500 close contacts, according to Baker.

The medium number of close contacts per confirmed case has been two.

“This is a good sign that people are taking social distancing seriously but that doesn’t mean folks can let up,” Baker said. “Please, if you’re contacted by the collaborative, please take the call and provide the relevant information to the caller.”

Baker said the phone calls will be from an 833 or an 857 phone number. It will show up on caller ID as “MA COVID TEAM.”

“Help us all get back to a new normal and contain the disease. We’re counting on all of you,” Baker said.

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