Chicago to fund 600 new COVID-19 contact tracers, will address health disparities long-term

Chicago News

CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced $56 million in federal money will be used to hire 600 new contact tracers for COVID-19 in Chicago Tuesday, saying the new jobs would be used as an opportunity to address health disparities in the city over the long-term.

“One of the most important weapons that we have in this fight is contact tracing, which is our ability to follow the path of this disease in order to learn where it’s coming from, who’s getting it, and how it’s spreading in our communities,” Lightfoot said Tuesday.

Neighborhood organizations based in areas of “high economic hardship” can apply for funding to vet, hire and train local contact tracers, who will call people in Chicago identified as having contact with someone with an active case of COVID-19.

Lightfoot said part of the goal of hiring a “legion of people” from low-income communities where there are disparities in health issues including coronavirus cases is to encourage residents to engage with the healthcare system.

“We want this to be a career path for individuals to receive the training and then see there are more opportunities for them in healthcare,” Lightfoot said.

According to Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, they expect the efforts to be fully “ramped up” by August, by which time the city will be able to trace 4,500 new contacts per day.

The $56 million used to fund the positions came from the Centers for Disease Control and federal government via the Illinois Department of Public Health, Arwady said. The temporary jobs will pay a starting wage of $20/hour and will include healthcare.

While the new wave of contact tracing jobs are expected to last 18 months, Arwady said as the coronavirus pandemic subsides the workers will switch their focus to addressing health disparities caused by “decades of disinvestment.”

Implementing a new system for “congregate and community investigations and contact tracing” in Chicago is one of the criteria laid out in Lightfoot’s plan for moving the city on to the next phase of reopening amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

While the city and surrounding region meet the state’s criteria for moving on to the next phase of reopening on May 29, the City of Chicago has its own plan for reopening. Under the criteria in that plan, Lightfoot said previously that Chicago may not move on to “Phase 3” of reopening until mid-June or later.

The mayor’s reopening plan prompted protests along the lakefront Monday by critics who say such orders are unconstitutional and should be lifted.

The other criteria laid out in Lightfoot’s plan includes a declining rate of new cases of COVID-19 and those requiring hospitalization, a minimum “surge” capacity in area hospitals and the ability for at least five percent of residents to be tested per month.

Watch: Mayor Lightfoot and health officials announce new contact tracing effort in Chicago

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