Gov. J.B. Pritzker today detailed plans to add thousands of new contact tracing workers to understaffed health departments statewide, but Evanston’s health director, Ike Ogbo, says the tracing workload has been manageable here.

He says the city has five or six staffers doing contact tracing and they’re backstopped by members of the city’s Medical Reserve Corps volunteers.

He says they’ve managed “as much as possible” to reach the contacts of a newly identified COVID-19 patient within 24 hours to advise them to self-quarantine.

“I’m quite comfortable with the performance so far,” Ogbo says.

Evanston has one of just four certified municipal health departments in suburban Cook County. All other municipalities in the county, other than the City of Chicago, rely on the Cook County Department of Public Health for contact tracing.

Pritzker said contact tracing is aurgably the most sustainable tool for reducing the spread of COVID-19.

It’s a longstanding disease control measure, he added, but chronic underfunding of health departments, but the fast-moving nature of the COVID-19 virus has placed a severe burden on health dpeartments.

He said now only about 29% of new COVID cases are engaged in a tracing process statewide, while the standard in the field is to reach over 60%.

Pritzker said the state will provide all health departments across the state with new software technology to manage the contact tracing process as well as a new smartphone app for COVID patients and their contacts to use to inform them about public resources to assist them while they are in isolation.

He said the state is working with the Boston-based organization Partners in Health, which has developed a contact-tracing program for Massachustts that’s considered a model in the field.

Dr. Wayne Duffus, a consultant hired by the state to ramp up the contact tracing program, said a survey of local health departments indicates tracers now have a workload that ranges from one to 525 contacts

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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