On June 11, the Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH) announced it will be receiving almost $41 million in grant funding from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to scale up the COVID-19 contact tracing program in suburban Cook County. This funding will allow CCDPH to rapidly increase the number of contact tracers over the next three to six months, and to focus on communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
Public health departments like CCDPH 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.
Currently, CCDPH has about 25 contact tracers working on COVID-19, with a focus on at-risk, vulnerable populations including people over age 65 and/or those with serious medical conditions. This grant will allow CCDPH to increase its workforce to about 400 contact tracers, a number commensurate with the numbers of cases in suburban Cook County, and to expand case investigation and testing to the general population. CCDPH aims to have all contact tracers, case investigators, care resource coordinators, and supervisory staff employed by fall.
CCDPH intends to earmark as much as 20%, or $8 million of grant funding, for community-based organizations. Funding priority will be for organizations located within, or primarily serving residents of, communities of high economic hardship, discrimination, and racism. Community-based grant recipients will conduct effective public health education and outreach, provide enhanced COVID- 19 case management and referrals for resources, and address related social and economic impacts, such as housing instability and lack of food.