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Pritzker hopes contact tracing will lower COVID-19 cases

Illinois reports a daily high of 3,137 new cases


Capitol News Illinois

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While the daily increase of COVID-19 cases in Illinois reached a new high Friday and hundreds of people were outside the Capitol rallying to end his stay-at-home order, Governor JB Pritzker recently announced the state’s plan for contact tracing of new cases. State officials hope that tracing will reduce cases and move Illinois closer to lifting societal restrictions like the stay-at-home order.

Contact tracing is the tracing of the social movements of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 so officials can alert people with whom they came in contact. It lets people know before their symptoms start that they might have the virus.

“Contact tracing is one of the most critical tools that we have to reduce our spread rate, speed up our diagnoses and seek to halt outbreaks before they happen,” Pritzker said Friday during his daily COVID-19 briefing in Chicago.

The governor noted that contact tracing is not new. In the early days of the outbreak, when Illinois had a “manageable number of cases and contacts,” Pritzker said, contact tracing was common. Back then, state and local health officials could alert people who had personal contact with those who had tested positive and instruct them to quarantine.

“Remember, we aren’t reinventing the wheel here,” Pritzker said. “Contact tracing has been done in every pandemic and major outbreak for many years.”

Pritzker, in broad terms, laid out the scope of the state’s plan, which he said will be “a massive statewide contact tracing operation, gradually building over the coming weeks, and then scaling up an army of contact tracers by the hundreds and then by the thousands.”

The governor said he is looking at a benchmark of 30 tracers per 100,000 residents, but “that number can and will diminish if we see greater success in our public health measures, particularly our new face-covering requirement.”

Pritzker said people who test positive will be interviewed to find out who they came in contact with over the previous 14 days. Those contacts will then be contacted by tracers via an app or through email, phone call or text message.

Contacts will also remain anonymous to protect privacy.

Pritzker has said contact tracing is the second of three hurdles Illinois must  clear to significantly ease social restrictions and enter a “new normal.” The first hurdle, testing, was cleared just over a week ago when the state began to meet its goal of 10,000 tests per day. The third hurdle is treatment.

“In order to move safely back toward normalcy, Illinois, the United States and frankly the whole world must contact trace on a never-before-seen scale,” Pritzker said.

The contact tracing program will be led by Acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Wayne Duffus, who is also a trained Epidemic Intelligence Service officer with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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