$41M COVID-19 Contact Tracing Grant Goes To Suburban Cook County

Eric DeGrechie

CHICAGO — After being awarded a grant of $41 million Thursday to scale up its COVID-19 contact tracing program in suburban Cook County, the Cook County Department of Public Health is predicting it will be able to reach up to 90 percent of case contacts within 24 hours. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the CCDPH said at a joint press conference the funding will focus on communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

"This is a win for Cook County," Preckwinkle said in a press release. "What we have seen with this pandemic is another reminder that until we address the structural issues black and brown communities face, they will continue to be disproportionately impacted. I am committed to addressing all of the drivers in our communities that contribute to such inequities, and this funding will certainly help."

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The program will serve residents who live in suburban Cook County, with the exception of Evanston, Oak Park, Skokie and Stickney Township, which have their own health departments.

Public health departments routinely reach out to the contacts of positive cases when investigating communicable disease outbreaks to let them know they have been exposed to a disease and to provide instructions and monitoring to keep it from spreading to others, according to the release.

"Contact tracing is crucial to preventing and controlling the spread of COVID-19," said Dr. Rachel Rubin, CCDPH co-lead and senior medical officer. "We currently have about 25 contact tracers working on COVID-19."

CCDPH intends to earmark as much as 20 percent, or $8 million, of the grant funding for community-based organizations located within, or primarily serving residents of, communities of high economic hardship, discrimination and racism to:

  • Conduct effective public health education and outreach.
  • Provide enhanced COVID-19 case management and referrals for resources.
  • Address other social and economic impacts, such as housing instability and lack of food.

According to the CCDPH, like other public health departments across the nation stretched by overwhelming numbers of cases and limited staff and testing, investigations to this point have largely focused on the most at-risk, vulnerable populations, including people over age 65 and/or those with serious medical conditions; especially those who were hospitalized or living in congregate settings. With the increasing capacity for testing and contact tracing in Illinois, CCDPH is stating it will be able to broaden case investigation and testing to the general population.

"We will phase in hiring over the next several months and expect to have everyone — the contact tracers, case investigators, care resource coordinators and supervisory staff — all on board sometime in the fall," said Dr. Kiran Joshi, also a CCDPH co-lead and senior medical officer.

For more information, visit: https://www.cookcountypublichealth.org/communicable-diseases/covid-19/contact-tracing/.

This article originally appeared on the Northbrook Patch