aims for big COVID-19 coronavirus contact tracing workforce – Crain’s Chicago Business

The city of Chicago is setting aside $56 million in federal and state grants to help train and certify a 600-person COVID-19 contact tracing workforce. 

A request for proposals, released today, seeks an organization to head up the effort. That organization would be required to distribute 85 percent of contact tracing funding to groups that primarily serve people in areas with high economic hardship. Those areas have also been some of the hardest hit by COVID-19. 

“These neighborhood-based organizations are responsible for recruiting, hiring and supporting a workforce of 600 contact tracers, supervisors, and referral coordinators to support an operation that has the capacity to trace 4,500 new contacts per day,” the city said in a news release. Contact tracers would earn $20 per hour, and supervisors would earn $24 per hour. 

“We already have a significant core of people who do contact tracing as a matter of course,” Lightfoot told reporters today, in addition to the work being done by health care providers like Howard Brown Health, Rush University Medical Center and the Sinai Urban Health Institute. The city is expanding its base “exponentially” through this RFP, with hopes for the new 600-strong workforce to be in place by August.  

Contact tracing involves identifying and contacting anyone in close contact with someone impacted by a virus or disease. For COVID-19, that process involves interviewing people who have tested positive for the virus to create a list of people they might have been in contact with. Tracers then reach out to people on that list to give health guidance about how to protect themselves and other members of the public.

“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,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in the news release. “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 health care economy, and strengthen ability to become the inclusive, equitable city we all know we can be.”

The mayor hinted in recent weeks that the city would need to substantially beef up its contact tracing workforce, and that she wanted to emphasize equity as that workforce was built up. Rush and DePaul both told Crain’s they were gauging interest among undergraduate students to help the city’s contact tracing efforts. The city says it will “partner with organizations who are already diagnosing COVID-19 cases over the next few weeks, such as hospitals and federally qualified health centers, to initiate or expand their contact tracing efforts.”

The grant money is coming from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

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