Massachusetts To Expand Testing And Tracing Efforts

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Massachusetts isn't just one of the top five states in the nation for coronavirus testing rates per capita. According to Gov. Baker, if the Bay State were a country, it would also be "a top five country in terms of testing per capita in the world."

At a press conference on Wednesday, Gov. Baker explained how Massachusetts is going to expand its COVID-19 testing and tracing efforts in the coming months.

"Our [COVID-19] Command Center continues to expand the number of available test sites, and who can get those tests," said Baker. "It is, in many respects, one of the most important ways for us to survey what's going on across the Commonwealth, especially as we start to reopen."

The state has created the capacity to do about 30,000 tests a day, although Baker said it is currently doing about "a third to a half, depending on the day." He said there needs to be a significant enhancement to the state's testing program, which will be ramped up "over the next several months."

Baker said the state's expanded testing program will likely target the "populations, industries and individuals" who are most at risk.

Last week, the Governor announced an expanded testing partnership with Quest Diagnostics at 18 community health centers across the state, which he said was specifically focused on increasing testing in the hardest hit areas, including high density communities, and communities of color.

Along with providing care and support services, Baker said community health centers have made a big difference in the state's ability to test for COVID-19 at the local level so far, and he said those same centers will continue helping by allowing the state to monitor infection rates by region.

Baker said there will also be a ramp-up of the state's tracing program, which involves finding and communicating with an infected person's close contacts. So far, 36 community health centers have participated in the tracing program.

Read More: "Community Health Centers: "We're Open For Business""

"Last month, we were the first state in the country to set up a contact tracing program; the Massachusetts Community Tracing Collaborative," said Baker. "We believe this tracing program will be a key element to not only stopping the spread of COVID-19, but also toward understanding the virus and who has it and who has been infected."

Baker said if someone tests positive for the virus, they will be contacted by the community tracing collaborative, or by their local board of health. On that call, an infected individual will be asked if they have what they need to successfully isolate and recover, and their recent close contacts will be traced.

To date, the state's tracing collaborative has connected with nearly 18,000 people with confirmed COVID-19 cases, and has reached out to more than 14,000 of their contacts over the past month.

Baker urged anyone who receives a call from a phone number with area codes 853 or 857, with "MA COVID TEAM" on the caller ID, to pick up and provide the relevant information for the state's tracing collaborative.

Thousands of coronavirus tests have also been made available through the state's mobile testing program. Baker said so far, the program has allowed for 40,000 "mobile onsite tests" to be conducted at more than 300 rest homes, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities.

According to the state Department of Public Health, about 60 percent of all deaths attributed to coronavirus in Massachusetts have been reported at long-term care facilities.

On Wednesday, Baker said his administration will have "a lot more to say about testing" before the end of this week.

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(Photo: Getty Images)

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