The state of Illinois plans to start a contact tracing program in the coming weeks as part of its efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Friday.
Contact tracing, the process of identifying and assessing people who’ve been exposed to a given disease, is a critical tool to reduce the spread rate of coronavirus and speed up diagnoses, Pritzker said at his daily coronavirus news briefing.
He said public health officials hope to shape a "massive operation" which could eventually include around 3,800 contract tracers — one worker for every 10,000 residents.
Similar initiatives have been introduced nationwide, including in the Northeast where New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have teamed up for a contact tracing program.
On a smaller scale, Pritzker said in Illinois, local health departments have already employed the strategy to find individuals who've been in contact with coronavirus patients.
When an individual tests positive for coronavirus, Pritzker said, a contact tracer will work to gather the person's contacts and retrace their steps over the past 14 days.
The tracer will then notify the connections that they've been in proximity with someone who has tested positive, recommend they undergo testing and self-isolate. The contact tracer will also offer resources on how to prepare for self-isolation, Pritzker said.
He added that while contact tracing has been around for a while, the whole world now must contact trace on "a never-before-seen scale."
"This is an unprecedented public health challenge – so we need an unprecedented solution to meet the moment," the governor said.
Prizker on Friday encouraged retired health care professionals, students in medical fields and others to become contact tracers and promised additional information on how to get involved in the following days.