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Cook County health department announces plans to spend up to $5.4M fighting COVID-19 in most-affected areas

Friday, September 11, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

The Cook County Department of Public Health announced Friday it is planning to spend up to $5.4 million to educate people about contact tracing, provide services to quarantined and isolated suburban county residents and facilitate setting up more COVID-19 testing sites.

The department is issuing a request for proposals to community-based organizations to do that work in areas most affected by COVID-19. Proposals submitted will be scored by the nonprofit Hektoen Institute of Medicine, a health service and research organization that administers grant awards for underserved people.

Contact tracing, which Gov. J.B. Pritzker repeatedly has said is crucial to reopening the economy, involves reaching out to people who contract the coronavirus and urge them to isolate and provide the names of people with whom they had close, prolonged encounters in previous days. They then reach out to the contacts and urge them to get tested and go into quarantine, so they can’t spread the disease.

The main aim of the proposed county program is to “develop trust in these communities so they will pick up the phone when we call,” said Dr. Rachel Rubin, one of the department’s two chiefs. She said folks contacted should know tracers are there “to protect them and their families and their communities.”

Back in June, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced a $41 million effort to add about 375 contact tracers to the 25 county employees who already do that work routinely. The $5.4 million program announced Friday is coming out of that pot of the money, provided through an Illinois Department of Public Health grant.

So far, the county has hired 40 additional contact tracers and 10 new supervisors, with the assistance of Hektoen, said Dr. Kiran Joshi, the department’s other chief. The goal is to be fully staffed by late autumn.

 

Hal Dardick

CONTACT

Hal Dardick investigates politics, government finances and taxes for the Chicago Tribune. He previously covered Chicago and Cook County government at the paper, after many years reporting on suburban politics, courts and crime as a freelance and wire-service reporter. He’s a former collegiate gymnast who likes real jazz, good food and fine wine.


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