Mayor Lightfoot said the money is coming from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the CDC and that 85 percent of the funding will go towards at least 30 community organizations that serve communities experiencing high economic hardship.
"This exciting new RFP represents a win-win for our city by both stemming the spread of COVID-19 among our most-impacted communities, as well as addressing the underlying health inequities these same communities have faced for generations," said Mayor Lightfoot. "Thanks to our close community partnerships, our work to expand our contact tracing workforce will also empower these same individuals to apply their new skills towards long-term career opportunities in our healthcare economy, and strengthen ability to become the inclusive, equitable city we all know we can be."
Coronavirus in Illinois: Latest news on COVID-19 cases, Chicago area impact
The neighborhood organizations will hire a workforce of 600 contact tracers, supervisors and referral coordinators, who will have the capacity to trace 4,500 new contacts per day.
The contact tracing process begins with interviewing a person who tested positive and then identifying people who they were in contact with. Public health officials will then get in touch with those individuals to urge them to get tested and, if necessary, self-quarantine. It also allows the state to track the progress of the virus and its spread.
Contact tracers can earn $20 an hour with supervisors earning $24 an hour. All positions will also come with full benefits.
Employees hired by the program will also get support for an "Earn and Learn" program to help them pursue stable, middle income jobs.
The city already has a number of employees engaged in contact tracing, but they have been able to only reach about 1,000 people a day. When the new staffers are hired and trained, they could contact about 4,500 people a day.
"As we ease out of shelter in place, it is more important than ever to implement all proven practices to prevent further spread of the virus," said CDPH Commissioner, Allison Arwady, M.D. "Contact tracing at the community-level will help us build out our public health infrastructure to reach even more Chicagoans. This approach provides the opportunity not only to operationalize an important tool in the fight against COVID-19, but also leverage the economic investment sourced from federal COVID relief funding to create thriving wage jobs and address long-standing health inequities caused by unequal economic opportunity and access to education."
The mayor said these jobs are budgeted to last 18 months, but she believes it is a starting point for some in underprivileged communities.
"This isn't a short-term project," Lightfoot said. "We want them to get the training and see that there are opportunities for them."
The mayor also said the program will help address the racial divide that shows higher incidences of COVID-19 infections and deaths in minority communities, especially since many employees will come from those communities.
"We realized in this unprecedented time, it's an all-hands-on-deck situation and we need to be involved in their process," said Brenda Battle, University of Chicago Hospitals.
While the rest of Illinois is on track to move into Phase 3 of Governor JB Pritzker's reopening plan this Friday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot last week said the city is not ready yet. She said trends suggest Chicago will be ready to move to Phase 3 in early June.
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