Lightfoot Announces $56M RFP To Expand COVID-19 Contact Tracing In Chicago

WBBM Newsradio Staff
May 26, 2020 - 1:51 pm

    CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Mayor Lightfoot joined CDPH Commissioner Dr. Arwady on Tuesday to announce the ramp-up of community-level contact tracing efforts for COVID-19 cases in Chicago.

    In order for Chicago to move to Phase 3 of Mayor Lori Lightfoot's  'Protecting Chicago' framework, the city must hit certain health metrics, as well as see a decline in case rates, have adequate support systems for its vulnerable populations, assurances that the city's healthcare system can handle the "very real possibility" of a case surge, and have adequate testing and contact tracing resources to track and limit the spread of COVID-19.

    "One of the most important weapons we have in this fight is contact tracing, which is the ability to follow the path of this disease in order to learn where it is coming from, who is getting it, and how it is spreading in our communities," Lightfoot said. "Since the beginning of this crisis, Dr. Arwady and her team at CDPH have done amazing work in conducting case investigations - that's finding information about the specifics of a person who has been affected; as well as doing contact tracing. But we know that we need to exponentially ramp up our contact tracing itself. 

    "And that is why I am thrilled to announce a new $56 million RFP to expand contact tracing in Chicago. Yes, $56 million. The The RFP will be awarded to a single lead organization and 85 percent of the funds, which come from the CDC and IDPH, will be directed to support at least 30 organizations that are either neighborhood-based or primarily support residents of the communities most impacted by COVID-19."

    According to Mayor Lightfoot, these organizations will be responsible for recruiting, hiring, and supporting a total of at least 600 new contact tracers, supervisors and referral coordinators across the city, all of whom will "ultimately be able to trace 4,500 new contacts per day when fully ramped up." She said most of these jobs will last 18 months, and "we are talking about good-paying jobs here with contact tracers making $20 per hour, supervisors making more and all with health benefits."

    The RFP will open Tuesday and runs through June 19 online.

    But this RFP is about more than just new contact tracers and about more than COVID-19 itself, Lightfoot said. It is about expanding health equity in the city of Chicago.

    "The discrepancies that we have seen with COVID-19 in our African American and LatinX communities did not just start with this disease, as we all know. They are in fact the direct result of generations of disinvestment and neglect that have expressed themselves most recently in the pre-exisitng conditions COVID-19 preys upon. Over these past two months of this crisis, we have worked to address these discrepancies with initiatives like our Racial Equity Rapid Response Team, our new community-based testing sites, and now today's RFP," Lightfoot said.

    "While these efforts are focused on COVID-19, they are, in fact, the latest steps in our broader mission to close these community fault lines once and for all. That's why in addition to expanding contact tracing in these communities, this RFP will also provide, earn, and learn opportunities to promote career pathways and real, long-term growth for our community-based workforce within the healthcare economy. Even in the face of this crisis, we need to leverage every opportunity we can to grow, build, and recover in ways our city has never seen before and become the inclusive, equitable and supportive city we all know we can be."

    The Mayor said the communities the RFP will be focusing on were chosen because it is there where these fault lines are most pronounced. 

    "We can't do it alone. This has to be an all hands on deck effort involving hospitals, federally qualified health systems and others...We can't be focused on building temporary scaffolding. We need permanent changes," Lightfoot said.

    CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the city wants to help people build skills that will ensure they can have longer jobs that will let them build a career in healthcare and in public health. She said it first starts with case investigation work.

    "If folks are not very clear on case investigation, this is the work the health department does year-round, every day, and has for decades," Dr. Arwady said. "The Health Department has been doing this work from the beginning, but when we're still getting nearly 1,000 cases a day — two days over this three-day weekend, we had nearly 1,000 new cases per day — we've not been able to do the full extent of the case investigation and contact tracing. We've been building up capacity within the health department first; we're now pulling in people from other city departments, with appropriate training..."

    Lightfoot continued that message, "We have a number of people that are already engaged in contact tracing. We are taking city workers and re-puporsing some of them that are available...I think our hope is to have this next tranche of folks identified and trained so they can begin in August...We want this to be a career path for individuals to get the training and see there are other opportunities for them in healthcare."