As part of Illinois’ push to create an “army” of contact tracers to identify people at risk of developing COVID-19, the state is launching pilot programs in Lake and St. Clair counties.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said these counties were chosen because they have significant needs in terms of case numbers in vulnerable populations, a robust capacity for tracing and existing collaborations with public health personnel, medical students and volunteers already on the ground. The programs are part of a larger initiative to scale up contact tracing statewide.
COVID-19 has infected at least 6,615 people in Lake County and has been linked to 215 deaths, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data, which shows another 815 cases and 66 deaths in St. Clair County.
Pritzker said the state is working with other local health departments, including the Chicago Department of Public Health, to start similar programs in the coming weeks.
On Monday, IDPH reported 2,294 new COVID-19 cases and 59 deaths in the 24 hours between Sunday and Monday, bringing statewide totals to 96,485 cases and 4,234 deaths.
State health officials also announced they had conducted 21,297 tests since Sunday, with 603,241 tests completed to date.
“With Illinois’ daily availability of testing among the best in the nation now, we want to grow our voluntary contact tracing so that we can further control and reduce the rate of spread of COVID-19 and stop outbreaks in their tracks. Not only that it’s arguably our most sustainable tool,” Pritzker said Monday afternoon.
“Knowing if you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 gives everyday Illinoisans the ability to keep their families and co-workers and friends safe by helping them seek testing or self-isolate, and it helps us build a public health system that truly supports them if their exposure leads to actual infection,” he added.
Currently, only 29% of patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Illinois are engaged in a contact tracing process, according to Pritzker, who wants that figure to exceed 60%, per industry standards.
“Given the sheer scale of our population’s widespread susceptibility to COVID-19, we can’t get to there with our existing infrastructure alone,” Pritzker said.
The state’s 97 city and county health departments are the foundational elements of the new Illinois Contact Tracing Collaborative, ensuring it’s a locally driven effort, Pritzker said. “We’re scaling up within our local health departments and providing a statewide technology infrastructure to ensure a coordinated operation.”
Of the 97 local health departments, 55 have answered IDPH assessments regarding their ability to expand and deploy their contact tracing capabilities, according to officials. IDPH is also gathering work plans and budgets from all of the departments and will incorporate their plans into the state’s overall plans in the coming weeks, according to the governor’s office.
Technology is an important part to the collaborative, according to Pritzker. While the state already has disease-reporting software, it is implementing a new project management and comprehension tool to collect and store all of the raw data related to contact tracing for COVID-19, he said.
In order to ensure those systems are seamlessly connected, the state is building software for deployment throughout the state, according to Pritzker. “This will allow all local health departments to work on one platform and allow IDPH to work with a real-time aggregated dashboard showing where and how pervasive COVID-19 is in every part of Illinois.”
As part of the initiative, officials will be encouraging every patient who tests positive for COVID-19 and those they’ve had contact with to download an app, which will connect them with any services they may need, such as alternate housing, and local health departments, according to Pritzker.
“The greatest strength of this new integrated infrastructure that we’re assembling is that it will allow us to reach more people and to do so at a faster pace,” Pritzker said.
The new technology will also allow for customization methodologies to account for the “unique aspects of different neighborhoods and communities,” Pritzker said. “With that community-specific element in mind, IDPH is working with Partners in Health, a world-renowned organization for building strong community-based health systems. This is the organization behind what has become known as the ‘Massachusetts model’ for what scaling up as a contact tracing operations and what the best looks like.”
Starting Monday, IDPH is accepting applications from anyone interested in becoming a contact tracer, which will then be forwarded to the appropriate local health department, according to Pritzker.
All hires will be made locally rather than through IDPH, Pritzker said, and salaries will be determined by local health departments in accordance with salary rates in the region. IDPH will support funding for new hires at local health departments where needed through federal CARES money and Disaster Relief Act funding, according to the governor’s office.
Coronavirus Prevention Tips and Resources
Officials advise taking preventive measures to slow the spread of the virus, including:
—Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
—Using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
—Sneezing or coughing into a tissue and then disposing of the tissue
—Limiting contact with people regardless of how you feel
—Staying home when you are sick
Symptoms of COVID-19 include, but are not limited to:
—New onset of fever, cough, shortness of breath
—Congestion in the nasal sinuses or lungs
—Sore throat, body aches or unusual fatigue
If you think you have COVID-19:
Call your doctor before showing up at their office. If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, tell the operator that you think you have COVID-19. If possible, wear a mask before medical help arrives or presenting at a doctor’s office. More advice for those who think they have COVID-19.
—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
—Illinois’ COVID-19 website
—Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) website
—IDPH COVID-19 hotline: 800-889-3931
—IDPH COVID-19 email link
—City of Chicago COVID-19 website
—City of Chicago COVID-19 hotline: 312-746-4835
—City of Chicago COVID-19 email link