New program trains people to conduct COVID-19 contact tracing in Chicago

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A new program underway in Chicago will train more people to conduct contact tracing to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. JB Pritzker has already said that Illinois will need an army of contact tracers before the state can return to normalcy. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 3,800 workers will be needed.

"We are going to be using the resources we have to scale up, but it will be a gradual process," said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. "We're not going to hire 4,000 people next week."

But where will those thousands of tracers come from? The governor's five-step regional reopening plan unveiled this week clearly states that moving from Illinois' current phase two to phase three requires the region to have a program in place that can begin monitoring and tracing some cases within 24 hours.

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To move to phase four, the region must be able to begin contact tracing for more than 90% of cases within 24 hours.

While significant progress has been made on testing, staffing for contact tracers still has a ways to go.

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Hoping to fill that gap, Oakton Community College unveiled a four-week online course to help train would-be tracers. The online program was developed in consultation with both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health, and it's open to anybody. But its focus is on tracing COVID-19 within Chicago's Northeast region.

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"Typically, these are health officials, when you look at contact tracing historically, who are doing this work," said Dr. Jesse Ivory of Oakton Community College. "The issue that has come up with this is that COVID-19 has presented the need to scale the number of contact tracers who are available so now we are looking at the general public."

Southern Illinois University is also said to be developing a similar program, the difference being that theirs will focus on contact tracing within the rural areas of central and southern Illinois.
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