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Illinois To Expand Contact Tracing Efforts

Screenshot of J.B. Pritzker via Blue Room Stream
Blue Room Stream
Blue Room Stream
Screenshot of J.B. Pritzker via Blue Room Stream

Governor J.B. Pritzker announced Illinois will start expanding contact tracing efforts designed to help map the spread of COVID-19.

Mike Smith reports.

Pritzker expects hundreds to as many as thousands of public health workers will be trained on how to map the virus and log how it has spread from person-to-person.

“We’re looking at a benchmark that could approach 30 workers per 100 thousand residents,” Pritzker said. “But to be clear, that number can and will diminish if we see greater success in our public health measures.”

Pritzker said training more health professionals on how to do contact tracing is necessary to flatten the curve and help reopen the state’s economy. Public health experts argue knowing a COVID-19 infection’s line of transmission can help better pinpoint where people who might have the disease are - and who should be quarantining.

“In order to move safely back towards normalcy, Illinois, the United States and, frankly, the whole world, must contact trace on a never before seen scale,” Pritzker said.

The governor estimated the program could cost the state as much as $80 million to implement, twice as much as Massachusetts spent on its contact tracing program.

That money would help pay for training, as well as implementing virus tracing technology. So far more than 56,000 people in Illinois are known to have COVID-19.

Illinois is planning a “soft rollout” of more widespread contact tracing by the end of this month.

“Right now, we have to deal with what’s right in front of us, and that’s getting to the other side of this crisis,” Pritzker said.

Illinois’ chief epidemiologist, Dr. Wayne Duffus, said many residents will be needed to make the program work.

“Illinois has a population of 12.7 million residents approximately,” Duffus said. “So doing the math, 12.7 million divided by 100,000 gives 127. If the benchmark is 30, you multiply that out, you get 3,810 individuals as our estimate of how many individuals will be needed.”

Duffus said around 300 contact tracing workers will be needed initially to begin. He said they’ll be placed strategically in the regions most impacted by the virus.

“Some of the components of training will involve, say, basic computer skills, privacy and confidentiality,” Duffus said.

Duffus said issues of testing and technology will help determine just how long training would last for those participating in the program.

“Contact tracing is a skill that can be performed by anyone who’s bright, interested, and has a charming personality,” Duffus said.

Copyright 2020 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Mike Smith is the graduate Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2020 legisltive session.