Massachusetts reduces $55M contact tracing collaboration amid complaints of dysfunction

Massachusetts was among the first states in the nation to launch contact tracing efforts, but now is reducing efforts after problems plagued the efforts, according to The Boston Globe.

The state has a $55 million contract with Partners in Health to track the coronavirus and hired hundreds of contact tracers, but many were recently laid off due to less work than anticipated. Cities and towns have expressed frustration with the contact tracing initiative, with some ending efforts all together.

Gov. Charlie Baker said the initiative was downscaling because the COVID-19 positive rate has held steady and the number of people who needed to be contacted has dropped significantly since its apex. The governor said there were around 1,900 trained contact tracers in the program, but the workforce declined to 1,200 in mid-June. Now, it employs 700 people.

The state initiative was launched to support local contact tracing efforts, but local health department leaders said the system suffered from computer glitches as well as lack of communication and training. As a result, there were delays in contacting individuals with COVID-19.

In some cases, it took more than three days for Partners to contact the person who tested positive for COVID-19 to learn about who they had come in contact with.

"I gave up on [the collaborative] because it's more pain than it's worth," Wil van Dinter, the public health nurse for Watertown, Mass., told The Globe. He also said Partners sent back challenging cases several days after the individual tested positive for COVID-19 and was in the Massachusetts computer database.

Through individual efforts, Mr. van Dinter also found a higher average rate of people in contact with individuals who have COVID-19 than Partners reported. The state has a $39 million contract with Accenture and Salesforce to develop and manage the collaboration's software, according to the report.

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