Massachusetts is launching what state leaders called the country’s first coronavirus contact tracing program, an aggressive step to stem the tide of new COVID-19 cases ahead of an expected surge.

Gov. Charlie Baker announced the initiative Friday afternoon, calling it “a major way that we are harnessing the talent and brainpower of our health care field.”

The program will have a virtual call center of 1,000 people who will get in touch with those who test positive for COVID-19. They will then find that person’s “close contacts,” or people whom the patient may have spread the infection too, and encourage those people to quarantine or get tested.

Boston-based nonprofit Partners in Health will be assisting.

Joia Mukherjee, a doctor with Partners in Health, talked about the importance of knowing your status with a virus that in many cases presents itself with no symptoms.

“We know that there is significant anxiety in this darkness,” Mukherjee said.

Baker said coronavirus cases will increase rapidly over the next few weeks, presenting an “unprecedented” strain on the health care system.

As of Thursday, there were 8,966 confirmed cases and 154 deaths connected to COVID-19 in Massachusetts. The actual number of cases is likely much higher.