At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, city and county officials hired hundreds of contact tracers to help stop the spread of the coronavirus as the number of cases overwhelmed local health departments.
The Illinois Department of Public Health provided about $250 million in funding to local health departments to hire additional people to perform contact tracing during the pandemic, according to a spokesperson.
Cook County received $41 million from the state to bolster its contact tracing efforts, allowing the health department to hire 400 people. The City of Chicago has received more than $50 million to strengthen its community efforts.
“When we’re dealing with a highly contagious and potentially serious infection or (one) that can cause serious illness, we try to do contact tracing,” said County Department Co-Lead and Chief Medical Officer Dr Rachel Rubin. by Cook. of Public Health. “With COVID, because it was an emerging infection and we didn’t know how it would work and manifest, (we) had to do contact tracing.”
But as the coronavirus pandemic enters an endemic phase, contact tracing will become more targeted, officials say.
“(When) we look to the future, we’re not going to investigate every case,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in an interview with WTTW News.
Instead, resources will be focused on cases involving new variants, schools and high-risk settings, like long-term care facilities and other congregate settings, as well as other outbreaks, according to Arwady. . “We’re going to make sure we put extra resources into anything unusual.”
As part of its efforts to eradicate the coronavirus, the City of Chicago has selected the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership to spend $56 million in state and federal funds to hire 600 people to perform contact tracing at the community level. The city has allocated an additional $28 million to fund case investigations and contact tracing efforts in partnership with federally qualified health centers, hospitals, and the Cook County Ambulatory and Community Health Network through to July 31.
After initially focusing on contact tracing, the community-level program expanded to focus on COVID-19 vaccinations once they became available, with workers helping to schedule appointments, as well as immunization clinics and the city’s COVID-19 hotline, according to Susan Massel, the partnership’s chief communications and external affairs officer.
Workers have also rallied to help combat vaccine hesitancy with outreach and door-to-door campaigns focused on Latinos and black people in Chicago, according to Patrick Stonehouse, director of public health operations at Chicago. Department of Public Health who works with the Level 1 contact tracer community. So far, workers have knocked on about 19,000 doors through these outreach efforts.
“They are incredibly inspiring, hardworking and thoughtful,” Stonehouse said, adding that workers were eager to take on new tasks as the pandemic evolved. “That kind of drive and determination is amazing to work with.”
More than 800 people have been hired through the program since its launch last year, with 612 people working at its peak, according to Stonehouse. Currently, about 500 people are employed under this program, which has been extended by the city’s health department until the end of the year.
Of the 349 no longer working with the corps, the vast majority – 71% – left for other employment opportunities, according to Stonehouse, who said 101 people were terminated for various reasons out of 807 hires. According to Stonehouse and Massel, some former corps employees were hired by both the health department and the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership.
Next month, the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership will host a job fair for those still working under the program with CDPH.
“We didn’t just want it to be a job,” Massel said. “We have an incredibly talented, emphatic and intelligent group of men and women from all walks of life who truly reflect the city. … They have the skills any employer would want.
Program participants are also notified of vacancies within the health department and other city departments during weekly meetings, according to Stonehouse.
The Cook County Public Health Department is also winding down its contact tracing program, which was reduced to about 100 workers after state funding ran out in late 2021, according to Rubin.
“Our contact tracers are doing a terrific job. I cannot say enough about the people we have trained and those who have stayed with us over the past year and a half,” she said. “We hope to continue the program in a revamped way until the end of the year.”
The loss of state funding came as the omicron variant began its rapid spread locally and the Illinois Department of Public Health began working to centralize its COVID-19 contact tracing efforts, IDPH taking the lead in most cases to reduce the local health burden. departments.
“Contact tracing of everyone and everyone has lost its usefulness,” Rubin said, adding that the department has focused its resources on high-risk groups, like people living in long-term care facilities and institutions. communities, as well as schools. “The (state) emergency center basically took over direct case investigation and contact tracing of almost all cases.”
This state emergency center will play a more targeted role in tracing efforts than previous efforts.
The Illinois Department of Public Health has contracted with outsourcing services Agility One and Deloitte Consulting to staff its contact tracing center, paid for with about $43 million in federal funds, according to a gatekeeper. -word of the IDPH.
“As the pandemic moves towards endemicity, we will reduce to one contract and continuously assess the need to continue the contract for the contact tracing center,” IDPH said in a statement. “The number of people working in the surge center fluctuates with transmission levels.”
While the state is handling the majority of cases, local health departments can still access details collected by the state’s contact tracing center to identify any potential clusters or outbreaks.
The city of Chicago is not part of the state’s contact tracing center efforts, officials say.
When the city’s community-level program ends, officials plan to use the same model for broader, longer-term health initiatives by working with people who live in the communities to act as ambassadors for public health, according to Stonehouse. These people will “really connect with people on all kinds of issues, especially neighborhood-specific ones like hypertension or diabetes,” he said.
State, county and city officials say as the pandemic progresses to endemic, fewer contact tracing resources will be needed, but Rubin and Arwady hope that’s more than pre-pandemic levels.
“We are a considerably smaller department than years ago. What we’ve seen (with the pandemic) is that you can’t activate something quickly if you don’t have enough of a base that is still working for public health,” Arwady said, adding that health services health need funding that is not tied to specific objectives. diseases. “The problem is how can someone build a fully prepared and well-functioning operation.”
Contact Kristen Thometz: @kristenthometz | (773) 509-5452 | [email protected]