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Chicago Hiring 600 Contact Tracers To Help Stop The Spread Of Coronavirus — And Whatever Health Crisis Comes Next

Even after the COVID-19 crisis, Chicago workers will be trained so they can pursue other jobs in the health field.

The COVID-19 Testing Center at Innovative Express Care in the Lincoln Park neighborhood on Monday, April 27, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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DOWNTOWN — Need a job? The city is hiring hundreds of contact tracers to figure out how coronavirus is spreading — and how to stop it from spreading further.

Contact tracing is a process wherein researchers talk to people with confirmed cases of coronavirus and find out with whom they might have been in contact. Researchers then reach out to those contacts, providing them with information about symptoms of COVID-19 and talking to them about how to safely isolate. Ultimately, the measure can slow the spread of coronavirus cases.

Health departments, including Chicago’s, routinely do contact tracing and have done it during the pandemic. But officials have said the virus spread so quickly it overwhelmed usual contact tracing efforts, which is why Chicago and Illinois have raced to increase their resources.

On Tuesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner, announced $56 million in funding to train and certify a 600-person workforce to support contact tracing.

“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,” Arwady said. “Contact tracing at the community level will help us build out our public health infrastructure to reach even more Chicagoans.”

The city is now accepting requests for proposals from organizations to lead this massive contact tracing effort.

The selected organization will then fund at least 30 neighborhood-based groups which do work in communities most adversely impacted by COVID-19. The goal is for these groups to ultimately trace 4,500 new contacts per day.

Contact tracers will earn $20 an hour with supervisors earning $24 an hour, the city said in a statement. People do not need to have prior training to apply, as they will be trained after being hired, and the jobs will last about 18 months.

Even after the COVID-19 crisis, these workers will be trained so they can pursue other jobs in the health field, making a permanent difference in their lives and the Chicago communities they serve, officials said.

“We want to help people build skills that will ensure they can have … jobs that will let them build a career in health care and in public health,” Arwady said.

The city aims to hire from Chicago neighborhoods with high rates of joblessness and with health disparities — specifically on the South and West sides.

“While these efforts are focused on COVID-19, they are, in fact, the latest steps in our broader mission to close their community fault lines once and for all,” Lightfoot said. “That’s why in addition to expanding contact tracing in these communities, this [request for proposal] will also provide earn and learn opportunities to promote career pathways and real, longterm growth for our community-based workforce … .

“We need to leverage every opportunity we can to grow, build and recover in ways our city has never seen before and become the inclusive, equitable and supportive city we all know we can be.”

The city hopes to have the new contact tracers trained and working by August.

The city’s also tried to bolster its contact tracing team by bringing in employees from other city departments and training them. Other health organizations and hospitals around the city are helping, too, by ramping up their own contact tracing efforts in areas hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. JB Pritzker has said Illinois will need a team of about 3,800 contact tracers. Those who are interested in applying can fill out a form online.

The researchers will call, text and, if necessary, visit the homes of people who were in contact with a coronavirus patient so they can talk to them about looking out for symptoms of the virus and self-isolating.

Researchers will work with a team that will help people who need to isolate get help with food and other needs.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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