Virus notes: Baker appeals for contact tracing support
Governor: All state prisoners will be tested for COVID-19
THE STATE’S EFFORT to slow the spread of the coronavirus by reaching out to those infected and tracking down their close contacts is off to a quick start, but it has a long way to go.
Since it opened for business on April 12, the contact tracing initiative has talked to nearly 14,000 people infected with the coronavirus and 7,500 of their contacts, according to Gov. Charlie Baker.
As of Thursday, a total of 73,721 people in Massachusetts have tested positive for the coronavirus and the number has been growing between 1,000 and 2,000 a day.
The biggest problem is people not responding to phone calls from the organization. More than 10,000 people are being called every day, but less than half of those calls go unanswered, said John Welch, the director of partnerships and operations at the nonprofit Partners in Health, which is spearheading the effort along with local boards of health and the state Department of Public Health.
A close contact is defined as someone who has been within six feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more anytime within a couple days before the person either began exhibiting symptoms or tested positive if they were asymptomatic.
Welch acknowledged the organization has hit some technological speed bumps along the way but did not go into any detail. He said the nature of the work has been too much for some of the people hired, but, overall, the attrition rate has been surprisingly low. He said 40,000 people applied for roughly 1,000 contact tracing positions.
Baker characterized the contact tracing effort as a major part of efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus and allow the phased reopening of the economy. He said people should take the phone calls and look at the effort as a way to protect themselves and the ones they are close to.
“It’s a huge chance for people to do something positive,” Baker said.
Baker to test all prison inmates
Gov. Charlie Baker said on Thursday that his administration intends to test all state prison inmates for COVID-19.
“We’re working our way through the prison system. In the end, we’re going to test everybody,” he said at a State House press conference.
Nearly 1m Mass. workers seek unemployment benefits
Close to 1 million Massachusetts workers have sought unemployment benefits since most of public life shuttered in mid-March to limit transmission of the highly infectious COVID-19, according to new data published Thursday.
Between March 15 and May 2, state labor officials received nearly 780,000 applications for standard unemployment insurance. Another 185,000 claimants have sought aid through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program — created by Congress to extend eligibility to gig workers, self-employed workers and others who do not qualify for traditional unemployment insurance — since it launched in Massachusetts on April 20.
Cumulative standard and expanded claims together total about 960,000 in Massachusetts since March 15, based on the latest figures unveiled Thursday, representing more than one-quarter of the state’s entire labor force.Both the 55,000-plus applications filed at the state level and the 3.17 million nationally were the lowest one-week totals since the week ending March 21, which was the first span where the outbreak’s devastating impact on employment became clear. However, both state and national weekly claims were once again several times higher than any pre-pandemic levels observed.
The rapidity with which the spike in need emerged is also unprecedented. Over the past seven weeks, about 33.4 million Americans have filed for unemployment. From the December 2007 start of the Great Recession, the cumulative total of new weekly claims did not reach 33.4 million until mid-April 2009 — a total of 73 weeks later — though not all of those applications reflected concurrent unemployment.