Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday urged residents to answer the phone if their local board of health or the COVID team contacts them. [Photo: Chris Van Buskirk/SHNS]
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BOSTON – Gov. Charlie Baker had a simple message Thursday for residents looking for their “chance to fight back” against COVID-19: Answer the phone.

Apparently, many people are not.

Baker, along with local and non-profit partners participating in the state’s first-in-the-nation contact tracing program, said the effort will become even more important to identify hotspots and track the spread of the virus as businesses start to reopen.

“If you get a call or a text from your local board of health or the COVID team it’s vital you take that call,” Baker said.

Partners in Health said less than 50 percent of their calls are being answered.

The phone calls should come from an 833 or 857 phone number and the caller ID should display MA COVID Team.

So far, the collaborative between the Department of Public Health, local boards of health and the non-profit Partners in Health has connected with 14,000 individuals with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and reached out 7,500 of their close contacts.

The team has 1,600 people making phone calls, and DPH Commissioner Monica Bharel said it’s working. “We know that because of the number of contacts we are now having to trace,” Bharel said.

The median number of close contacts of confirmed cases is two, which officials said points to effective social distancing. Baker acknowledged that key metrics his administration is watching as it considers when to reopen the economy — including rates of positive tests — went up again on Wednesday, but the five-day average is showing progress in the right direction.

“Yesterday’s numbers are evidence that despite some signs of trending in the right direction we still have a lot of work to do,” Baker said.