Effort To Track COVID-19 Infections With New Workforce Behind Schedule

(Andrés Rodríguez / Pixabay) (Andrés Rodríguez / Pixabay)

Chicago officials’ push to build a first-of-its-kind workforce to conduct community-level contact tracing efforts to stamp out the coronavirus is months behind schedule, even as health officials brace for a new surge of the virus at the start of the traditional flu season.

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When Chicago officials announced in June that the city would partner with the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership to spend $56 million in state and federal funds to expand contact tracing efforts, Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said the 600-employee effort would be fully staffed by Tuesday, officials said.

However, none of those workers have started, Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership CEO Karin M. Norington-Reaves said Monday, appearing at a news conference with Arwady and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to announce officials had selected 31 local organizations to conduct the work. 

Instead, conditional job offers have been made to 150 people who are set to start training, Norington-Reaves said.

Arwady said the city’s effort was “right on track.”

“I feel very good about where we are,” Arwady said. “There are always bumps in the road.”

Neither Arwady nor Lightfoot addressed the delay.

However, Lightfoot called the selection of the neighborhood organizations that will conduct the work “a moment of hope” amid the pandemic, which prompted Gov. J.B. Pritzker to issue a stay-at-home order six months ago.

Arwady and Lightfoot said Chicago’s decision to hire outside groups to reach out to as many people as possible who have come in contact with a person who has a confirmed case of COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus, was designed to build a lasting framework that will help the city address long-standing health issues after the pandemic and provide good jobs for Chicagoans. 

Chicago Department of Public Health employees will continue doing contact tracing work as well, Arwady said.

The city is investigating 90% of newly confirmed cases within 24 hours, Arwady said. But just 57% to 63% cases are fully investigated, she added.

Some people may be reluctant to answer calls from an unidentified number, while others are concerned about revealing private medical information to strangers, she acknowledged.

“Room to grow there,” Arwady said.

Calls from contact tracers will now come from 74-COVID in an effort to encourage people to answer the calls, Arwady said.

The city’s program is designed to have well-known and respected local organizations reach out to people who may have been exposed to the virus and urge them to self-quarantine and get tested, officials said.

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.

An average of 266 Chicagoans have been diagnosed each day with the coronavirus during the past week, a 15% decrease from the previous week, according to Chicago Department of Public Health data. The city’s average test positivity rate is 5.1%, while 8.1% of all people tested for the coronavirus in Chicago had the disease, according to the data.

More information about the contact tracing jobs is available online.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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