The city will use $56 million in state and federal funds to hire 600 people to conduct community-level contact tracing efforts to stamp out the coronavirus, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Tuesday.
The new employees, expected to start in August, will be hired for 18 months at a starting salary of $20 per hour, with supervisors earning $24 per hour, Lightfoot said. All employees will get benefits, she added.
Contact tracing is “one of the most important weapons that we have in this fight” against the coronavirus, Lightfoot said.
The city is accepting proposals for the contract on its website dedicated to the coronavirus. The winning firm will be required to set aside 85% of the funds for at least 30 neighborhood organizations that will conduct the work, Lightfoot said.
That will ensure the funds are used to address the long-standing inequity that has worsened the pandemic’s toll on Chicago’s South and West sides by making “permanent changes,” Lightfoot said.
“We can’t be focused on building temporary scaffolding,” Lightfoot said, adding that while out-of-work Chicagoans will be able to find jobs and get training, they will also serve as ambassadors for the health care system in neighborhoods where few have access to preventive care.
The newly passed state budget includes $900 million to help slow the virus’ spread by expanding testing and creating a system to track down everyone who came into contact with a new confirmed case of the coronavirus so they can be tested and encouraged to stay away from others.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said Illinois will need a team of about 3,800 contact tracers.
Since the coronavirus can be transmitted by those who are not experiencing symptoms, it is crucial to find people as soon as possible after they have been exposed to ensure they do not spread the virus, officials said.
The Chicago Department of Public Health routinely uses contact tracing to stop the spread of infectious diseases and used it when the first cases of the coronavirus were reported in Chicago. However, when the respiratory virus began to spread unchecked through the community, the city’s resources were overwhelmed, forcing city and state officials to issue stay-at-home orders.
Once the new program is up and running, the new employees will be able to trace 4,500 new contacts per day, Lightfoot said.