Coronavirus

Illinois will need 3,800 contact tracers, program could cost $80 million

IDPH announces 3,137 new cases of COVID-19, highest 24-hour increase

Protesters rally against Illinois stay-at-home order outside the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago, Friday, May 1, 2020. The Friday demonstration is the latest in a series of protests around the country against stay-at-home orders designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Protesters rally against Illinois stay-at-home order outside the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago, Friday, May 1, 2020. The Friday demonstration is the latest in a series of protests around the country against stay-at-home orders designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Illinois will need an estimated 3,810 contact tracers – whose job will be to reach out to Illinoisans who may have come in contact with someone infected by COVID-19 – and the program could cost the state about $80 million, state officials revealed Friday.

“[Contact tracing] is how we break transmission,” said Wayne Duffus, the state’s acting chief epidemiologist. “It’s how we ensure that we don’t have a large outbreak ongoing.”

The cost of the program will depend how many contact tracers are volunteers and how many are paid workers, Gov. JB Pritzker said. The total number of tracers needed would diminish as cases diminish.

Massachusetts hired more than 1,000 contact tracers last month. Tracers call people with confirmed positive cases and work with them to determine who they might have been in close contact with since contracting the virus. The contact tracer then contacts those individuals. For privacy reasons, contact tracers won't tell those individuals who may have exposed them to the virus.

“A community will need public awareness and acceptance of contact tracing,” Duffus said. “Community members need to take responsibility to follow the guidance from public health agencies.”

Illinois has performed contact tracing since the beginning of the pandemic, but the state hopes to vastly expand its capabilities by the end of May.

“This is our primary tool for identifying potential asymptomatic spreaders so that they can self-isolate quickly and slow the spread of the virus,” Pritzker said.

The state outlined its contact tracing plan Friday as the IDPH reported 3,137 new cases of COVID-19 and 105 additional deaths. It marked a new 24-hour high in confirmed cases.

Illinois now has seen 56,055 positive cases of the virus. A total of 2,457 people have died throughout the state. Illinois has tested 284,688 people.

Newly reported deaths included 69 in Cook County. Eleven people died in DuPage County, seven died in Will, four died in Kane and Lake, two died in Jackson and McHenry, and one each died in Adams, Clinton, Madison, Sangamon, St. Clair and Whiteside counties.

Results came back from 14,821 tests between Thursday and Friday, with 21.2% of those tests being positive. Illinois had been around a 15% positive rate earlier this week before a rise to 19% Thursday. The World Health Organization recommends countries should be at 10% positive or less in order to reopen their economies.

Contact tracing alone won’t stop the virus. Duffus said the state needs to continue extensive testing.

Contact tracers also inform individuals how to self isolate. Close contacts of a positive case are eligible for testing. If a test comes back negative, they can stop self-isolating.

IDPH estimates it will need 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents. In a state with 12.7 million people, that equates to 3,810 total tracers. They would have to be trained, too.

“It’s an unprecedented public health challenge,” Pritzker said. “So we need an unprecedented solution to meet this moment.”

As of Friday, Chicago has seen 22,718 confirmed cases of COVID-19, while the rest of Cook County has seen 15,950.

Lake County has seen 3,766 confirmed cases, DuPage 3,256, Will 2,617, Kane 1,677, McHenry 666, Kendall 281, Ogle 122, DeKalb 105, Whiteside 87, La Salle 54, Grundy 37, Lee 23, Bureau 10 and Carroll nine.

As of late Thursday night, Illinois had 4,900 COVID-19 patients in the hospital, of those, 1,263 are in the ICU and 777 are on ventilators. The state has 10,988 open hospital beds.

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