Lowell Community Health Center joins contact tracing effort

The Lowell Community Health Center is setting up two “linguistically and culturally diverse” teams to assist groundbreaking state and city contact tracing efforts aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 and enabling the state to eventually reopen.

The community health center at 161 Jackson St., which also began offering COVID-19 testing last week, is one of 38 community health centers around the state that were chosen by the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers to join state contact tracing efforts.

In a prepared statement, the health center said Massachusetts is the first state in the nation to undertake comprehensive contact tracing of all residents diagnosed with COVID-19.

The tracing sees workers contact patients who have COVID-19 to document who else they have been in contact with over the previous 48 hours, and then contact those individuals with instructions and advice.

The tracing will be conducted by two teams of seven people with diverse cultural backgrounds. Those workers, who include eight people previously furloughed from the health center, began training this week and went to work on Friday. They are working in conjunction with the nonprofit group Partners in Health, which the state has contracted to oversee the effort.

“This is exactly what (community health centers) need to be doing at this time,” LCHC’s Chief of Community Health and Policy Sheila Och said in a prepared statement. “We have deep roots in our communities and can be a bridge to education, testing and care. Our staff who are undertaking this important work have established trust with our community and act as cultural brokers and medical interpreters. They can provide much needed support through this pandemic.”

The work is also being done in conjunction with the Lowell Health Department’s contact tracing efforts.

“A Lowell CHC Community Response team will be reaching out via phone and text to those with a confirmed positive COVID-19 test to urge self-quarantine, and also contact anyone they’ve been in contact with over the past 48 hours,” the health center said in a prepared statement.

The teams will also work to help both patients and their contacts find resources and advice.

“This will involve things like arranging testing, as well as linking them to care and providing information about symptoms, quarantine information and links to food, behavioral health services, and other supports,” Och said in a prepared statement.

The tracing will be conducted as part of a 90-day contract between the health center and the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, though the contract is expected to be extended as needed as the pandemic continues, according to a prepared statement issued by LCHC.

Telephone calls from the tracing teams will come from 833 and 857 prefixes and will show up on caller ID as “MA COVID Team,” according to a prepared statement released by the health center.

In a telephone town hall hosted by U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan on Thursday, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito urged everyone who gets a call from one of the contact tracers to pick up. Polito, who is helping to head up efforts to reopen the state’s economy, said contract tracing has worked before.

“We know these are proven methods from other pandemics and epidemics that have occurred around the world,” Polito said.

She urged everyone to watch for calls from an 833 or 857 number that says MA COVID Team in caller ID.

“That is an official call,” Polito said. “You should answer it and provide the information so we can help keep more people safe in the commonwealth.”