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Barack Obama just gave Mass. a shout out for its coronavirus efforts

Barack Obama.
Barack Obama.Ron Edmonds/Associated Press

President Obama is praising Massachusetts for launching an aggressive contact tracing program that aims to identify and isolate people who may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Obama contrasted the state’s response with that of the federal government, and suggested the federal response helmed by his successor, President Trump, was lacking.

“While we continue to wait for a coherent national plan to navigate this pandemic, states like Massachusetts are beginning to adopt their own public health plans to combat this virus––before it’s too late,” Obama wrote.

The former president linked to an article in the New Yorker written by Jim Yong Kim, co-founder of Partners in Health, the organization helping to launch Massachusetts’ tracing program.

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Obama has been increasingly vocal on Twitter and elsewhere about the government response to the coronavirus pandemic. He has so far refrained from criticizing Trump directly, but he has urged state and local leaders to “speak the truth” as they communicate with their constituents, and has voiced support for social distancing measures at a time Trump was arguing for the economy to reopen. He has frequently shared articles that outline ideas for how to respond to the pandemic, including one from Senator Elizabeth Warren.

The effort to build out Massachusetts’ contact tracing program, the first statewide effort in the country, began about a month ago, and Partners in Health is still rapidly bringing on staff, said Emily Wroe, a physician with the Cambridge-based global health nonprofit and director of implementation and design of the contract tracing program.

More than 700 people have gone through the training program, which is done virtually. Ultimately, the goal is to have more than 1,000 people engaged in contact tracing, Wroe said.

Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, spoke about the contact tracing program again during a press conference on Wednesday, urging Massachusetts residents to answer their phones for members of the tracing team.

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The contact tracing plan works like this: A case investigator reaches out by telephone to a patient who has tested positive for COVID-19, and walks them through everyone they came in close contact with for 48 hours prior to showing symptoms.

Contact tracers then reach out to those people to warn them they may have been exposed, and walk them through how to safely isolate themselves for a 14 day period. Those conversations involve helping the person figure out what assistance they might need: Do they have someone to bring them groceries? Do they need prescriptions filled? Resource care coordinators help connect people to social services such as food pantries if needed.

The tracers check back in periodically to see how people are doing, and whether they're showing symptoms.

The growing flock of contact tracers is up and running, even as more are being brought on board. By May 1, the plan is for the program — working with local boards of health — to reach out to every single person who tests positive for COVID-19 and trace their contacts, Wroe said.



Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano. Victoria McGrane can be reached at victoria.mcgrane@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.