PIH Partners with Mass. Governor's Office on COVID-19 Response

Posted on Apr 3, 2020

Massachusetts State House
The Massachusetts State House has become the headquarters for the state's response to the COVID-19 epidemic. Photo courtesy of Massachusetts State House

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced a new initiative today to accelerate the state’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, by dramatically scaling up the state’s capacity for contact tracing through a new collaboration with Partners In Health (PIH).

The Massachusetts COVID-19 Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC) is designed to not just flatten the curve, but bend the curve downward to more rapidly reduce the number of cases in Massachusetts.

The CTC is a partnership of four groups: MA COVID-19 Command Center, Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority (CCA), Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), and PIH.

“We are living in a difficult and unprecedented time, and it is imperative that all of us in the Commonwealth contribute to controlling this epidemic,” said Partners In Health CEO Dr. Sheila Davis. “We’re humbled to be part of the team selected by Governor Baker to fight COVID-19, and hope that PIH’s experience fighting pandemics around the world will help stem the grim tide of the COVID-19 epidemic in Massachusetts.”

PIH will coordinate closely with the state’s Department of Public Health and Department of Health and Human Services to support the state’s efforts by training and deploying hundreds of contact tracers, who will call people who have been in close contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients. The CTC’s work will be combined with the state’s response initiatives and will provide support to people in quarantine to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“Enhanced tracing capacity is an enormously powerful tool for public health officials to rely on in their battle against COVID-19,” Baker said at the State House in Boston during a Friday afternoon press conference announcing the collaborative. “By monitoring and isolating through an enhanced community tracing program, our state can be positioned to reduce the number of cases in the long run.”

Baker said that while local health boards in Massachusetts already are contact tracing, the collaborative will bring “a much more robust, targeted approach” that is “working toward a goal of getting staffed and ready to go…by the end of this month.”

The collaborative is part of the state’s multi-faceted preparation for an expected surge of COVID-19 cases in coming weeks.

“When you start getting into numbers like the types of numbers we’re talking about in our projections, you need a larger organization with a much larger infrastructure,” Baker said. “The difference is between doing this for a few thousand people, and doing it for tens of thousands of people.”

Dr. Joia Mukherjee, PIH chief medical officer
Dr. Joia Mukherjee, PIH’s chief medical officer, said at the State House that expanded contact tracing in Massachusetts will help "shine a light" on the COVID-19 epidemic. Looking on is Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. (Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Governor's Office)

Dr. Joia Mukherjee, PIH’s chief medical officer, cited the organization’s experience in responding to disease outbreaks around the world.

“Whether fighting Ebola in West Africa, tackling HIV and tuberculosis for a generation, or facing the sudden emergence of cholera in Haiti, we at Partners In Health know that even as we prepare the hospitals in the Commonwealth to provide safe and effective care to all the people who are sick, … we must simultaneously stop the ongoing spread of COVID-19 if we are to end this terrible pandemic,” she said at the State House.

Mukherjee spoke about how effective contact tracing can help people learn their COVID-19 status, or possible risks, and take appropriate steps to care for their families.

“Access to this information helps contacts to know how to protect their loved ones, and to get tested or cared for themselves,” she said. “Without knowing our own status, without being able to specifically protect our loved ones, we are all living in the dark. (And) we know that there is significant anxiety in this darkness.”

Mukherjee spoke about her own experience, sharing a home with her elderly mother and wanting to keep her free of COVID-19.

“We believe that people want to know if they have been in contact with this disease,” she said. “Knowing one’s status will shine the light on this epidemic and make it possible for Governor Baker’s great vision—of having the Commonwealth lead on stopping transmission—to happen.”

Dr. Paul Farmer at the State House
Dr. Paul Farmer, PIH co-founder and chief strategist, said at the State House that he is grateful to join the state's fight against COVID-19, citing the need for humane care and expert mercy. Behind him, left to right, are Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and Gov. Charlie Baker. (Courtesy of Massachusetts Governor's Office.)

Mukherjee and Dr. Paul Farmer, PIH co-founder and chief strategist, both spoke about how the collaborative will approach contact tracing with love and compassion, to humanely inform people of their risks and provide access to social support and resources.

“I am grateful as a citizen, I am grateful as a Brigham & Women’s physician and Harvard Medical School professor, to join this effort … with the expert mercy that is called for in these times,” Farmer said. 

Read more about PIH's response in Massachusetts, and what PIH co-founders Farmer and Dr. Jim Yong Kim have to say about this unique partnership.


Join the COVID Community Team 

 

Partners in Health is hiring Contact Tracers, Resource Coordinators and Case Investigators to reach out to all Massachusetts contacts of COVID patients, counsel them on testing and quarantine, refer them for testing, and connect them to necessary resources throughout their quarantine. This is in tandem with Commonwealth-wide efforts to increase testing, improve communication, and implement isolation and quarantine. Apply now to work with PIH to fortify efforts to control the pandemic in Massachusetts.

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