Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said Friday that his state would join with Partners In Health, a Boston-based global health nonprofit, to turn staffers into contact tracers, the backbone of any robust public health effort to squelch a deadly disease…

Public health experts across the country hope Massachusetts will not be alone for long. Increasingly, those who have warned for months about the virus’s potential spread now say a mass-scale national program aimed at suppressing the virus at a community level through that sort of robust contact tracing is crucial to stopping its spread.

Such a program aimed at bolstering national public health would be unprecedented in the history of the country. But as the economy nosedives into what could be a depression and millions lose their jobs in the space of a few days and weeks, a government-backed effort to get those people back to work does have a precedent, in Depression-era programs like the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps.