The Illinois Department of Public Health has revamped its COVID-19 contact tracing efforts due to the growing number of cases statewide.
Since January 14, all positive cases go through a centralized system that will initiate contact with an automated text and prioritize high-risk groups.
“The goal of centralized contact tracing is to ensure that the people most at risk of serious illness or death are the ones we are looking for,” said Kristen Dozier, clinic coordinator at the Department of Health of the Kankakee County. “We want to make sure we can match them with treatments or whatever options they have before COVID gets worse.”
Since December 28, 2021, all positive cases associated with a mobile phone number will receive a text message stating “IDPH COVID: There is important information for you”.
Calling the number will opt in to the text recipient for an interview with an IPDH representative, and the link will provide information.
Dozier said this message and all IDPH texts on COVID-19 are from number 69298.
“When being tested for COVID, it is important for them, if they have a mobile number available, to give it at the time of testing because we can ensure everyone receives the text information,” Dozier said.
When a person is tested for COVID-19 and has a positive result, the lab shares the person’s contact information with IDPH so contact tracers can verify the person, ensure they receive appropriate treatment and track down who else she might have been in contact with. with if they agree to answer the questions.
The health department previously had responsibility for contacting new positive cases in the county. Anyone they failed to contact within 48 hours was then placed in the queue for the State Contact Tracing Surge Center, which was developed to ease some of the burden on local health departments.
From now on, all positive cases will first be treated through the centralized IDPH system and most confirmed cases will be treated by the Surge Center, their first priority being the population over 65 years of age.
People in this group will receive an additional SMS if they do not reply to the first message.
Local health departments will focus on congregational facilities like long-term care facilities and provide support in the event of an outbreak.
“They will work on cases and we will work on cases as we can outside of those criteria,” Dozier said.
The Kankakee County Health Department is retaining its five contact tracers, with a sixth starting later this month, and its supervisors to meet those needs, Dozier said.
“I think it will give us the ability to really work with local facilities and seek contact with those who are at the greatest risk of serious illness or death,” she said. “And we won’t be as overwhelmed with the number of cases coming in.”
Dozier estimated that the health department was handling potentially 100 contact tracing calls per day, between outbound and inbound. She said the length of calls vary, but most last about half an hour.
Schools, which were already required to report positive cases to the health department, will take an even more active role in contact tracing of students and workers within their buildings.
“So it doesn’t really change much on their part, but it’s just that they won’t get the call from us on these students [who test positive] for contact tracing,” Dozier said.
The health department will still be able to access all cases reported to IDPH so that it can look for potential clusters or outbreaks and request to care for those cases.