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COVID-19 Community Tracing Collaborative Media and Outreach Approach

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Partners in Health (PIH) established a commitment to maximizing visibility and trust in the Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC). The goal is to build awareness of, and trust in, the program, describe how it works, and detail the support confirmed cases and gather information to help flatten and lower the curve of COVID cases.

PIH and the Commonwealth coordinated a high-visibility launch of the program, and are planning a longer-term campaign to expand awareness of the program. 

Table of Contents

Immediate and short-term activities

The CTC leveraged the Baker/Polito COVID-19 Command Center structure for executive oversight and resourcing.   
The need for immediate support to Local Boards of Health for contact tracing was met by a corps of trained volunteers from Schools of Public Health and Community Health Workers in 12 Academic Health Departments.   
The CTC scales these efforts to a state-wide approach. 
• The CTC program was announced at Governor Baker’s daily press briefing on April 3, which have been extensively covered and drives coverage through the 24-hour news cycle. The announcement generated print, TV, radio and digital stories across the state. 
• A press release was timed for release in conjunction with the Governor’s announcement and was shared to media statewide. 
• Social media posts from the Governor’s Twitter account and state agencies quickly spread word of the program, with pickup from lawmakers and other elected officials. 
• The announcement generated significant immediate earned media on TV, radio, digital and print platforms, including national outlets such as CNN and the New York Times. 
• As the collaborative adds communities for calls, local media is pitched stories on the importance of residents to answer the call from the MA COVID Team. 

Ongoing activities

The goal of ongoing media and outreach activities is to create visibility for the collaborative and develop a sense of trust in the activities in order to maximize participation rates. 
Key messages include: 
• We are all in this together, and working with the collaborative is a simple act of caring that can help many people avoid the virus and help flatten and reduce the curve in Massachusetts.  
• The collaborative will provide support to people who are confirmed cases, ensuring their needs are met as they recuperate. 
• The collaborative will work with confirmed cases to learn who they came into contact with recently. 
• The collaborative will reach out to those contacts identified by confirmed cases, encourage them to get tested and self-isolate, and provide additional support as necessary. 
The collaborative is creating and implementing a paid media campaign that works to identify areas with higher percentage of cases and collaborative involvement, using a multi-cultural approach centered on ethnic media to ensure messages are culturally sensitive and impactful to all communities. 
• Material will be prepared in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Khmer and Arabic, along with English. 
• Media includes digital and social media, Spanish-language TV, multi-ethnic radio and print, and out-of-home, such as bus shelters and transit platforms. 
• The campaign includes participation in local radio “helplines,” which will be staffed by collaborative experts. During these helplines, listeners can call in with questions about the contact tracing and the collaborative, and receive answers on-air. 
• The paid media buy will be informed by tracking trends in confirmed cases in communities across the state, with intensity moving up and down in geographic areas based on hot spots in cases. 

Taking advantage of Massachusetts’ unique local public health structure

A key part of messaging contact tracing in Massachusetts is highlighting the importance of local boards of health and their participation in the COVID-19 Tracing Collaborative. 

 Massachusetts is unique in the country – each of its 351 cities and towns has its own, discrete board of health, and a long and proud history of home rule. While other states have county or regional systems, most Massachusetts municipalities operate standalone health departments. 
In Massachusetts, local boards of health have statutory authority (coordinate with the Department of Public Health)to address infectious diseases – like COVID-19 – through investigating known and suspected cases, recommending and enforcing quarantine and isolation (both voluntary and involuntary), making testing recommendations, and reporting to state public health officials. 
Contact tracing and quarantine are critical tools used by local public health departments to help reduce the spread of disease. As COVID-19 continues to spread at a rapid rate, the number of contacts of positive cases will grow exponentially. If local health departments can forestall just one in one thousand preventable hospitalizations in Massachusetts, it would represent a savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars and a saved life. 
Rapid Reorganization of Local Public Health in the COVID-19 Pandemic 
Building on existing infrastructure and respecting local autonomy, the Baker/Polito Administration in collaboration with the Coalition for Local Public Health, created a regional system of local board of health collaboratives. 
These collaboratives are broken down into three different systems: 
1) 14 largest cities in Massachusetts, 
2) 15 established Health Districts that organize 112 Massachusetts towns and 
3) Seven COVID-19 Crisis Affiliates to provide emergency collaboration for  225 unaffiliated Massachusetts towns. 
These geographically based Health Districts and Crisis Affiliates assist the Baker/Polito Administration in distributing state funding, communicating with local boards of health, and coordinating shared services and resources as needed. 
Because there is no consistent regionalized system, the needs, staffing, and resources for each board of health is unique. The Health Districts and Crisis Affiliates were able to distribute funding to these municipalities as well as serve as a resource to field questions, and to make connections to most effectively and efficiently utilize funding and other existing and emerging resources. 

Leveraging Massachusetts colleges and universities’ schools of public health

Massachusetts is blessed with one of the strongest academic centers in the country, including schools of public health at premier colleges and universities throughout the Commonwealth. Student volunteers from these schools of public health are participating in the COVID-19 Tracing Collaborative, both interacting with confirmed cases and their contacts, but also providing valuable insight through data collection and analysis as more information about the virus spread becomes available.  
Participating academic health departments:

  • Boston University School of Public Health
  • Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Holyoke Community College, Foundations in Health & CHW Certificate Programs
  • Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
  • Northeastern University
  • Northern Essex Community College
  • Regis College
  • Simmons University
  • Tufts University
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  • University of Massachusetts Medical School