Three West Side organizations are hiring workers to help fight the spread of COVID-19.
Countywide, 31 groups are hiring contact tracers through the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, which received a $56 million grant from the Chicago Department of Public Health to oversee contact tracing efforts.
Westside Health Authority, Safer Foundation and Habilitative Systems Inc. are each receiving grants. The initiative will create close to 600 jobs across the county; it’s uncertain how many of those jobs will be on the West Side.
Westside Health Authority has filled 20 position; each person will be working from home equipped with Wi-Fi, a telephone and a computer.
People being hired will be from the communities hardest hit by COVID-19.
“COVID hit hard in African American communities as well as Latinx communities,” said Morris Reed, the CEO of Westside Health Authority.
“The unemployment and housing insecurity is a result of us quarantining ourselves, so this is sort of a stimulus. It’s a health stimulus and an employment, economic stimulus for some of our residents to get back on their feet and help people.”
Contact tracing has been used in Chicago since the beginning of the pandemic with about 200 contact tracers working at the city’s public health department.
With the implementation of the city’s COVID Contact Tracing Corps, there will be more than 800 contact tracers, including those working for clinical partners and the city public health department.
Contact tracing has been used for decades to fight infectious diseases. A “contact” is anyone who’s had direct physical contact with an infected person – or been within 1 meter of an infected person for 15 minutes.
Once someone is confirmed as a contact, they need to quarantine for two weeks, as it can take between one to 14 days to develop symptoms after being exposed to the coronavirus.
Contact tracers also connect people to services that will make their quarantine easier. That includes treatment, social services, housing and food assistance, among other resources.
“We’ve married up public health and workforce development in a way that’s not been traditionally done to try to fight this pandemic,” said Susan Massel of the Chicago Cook Workplace Partnership. “We need to bring people back into the workforce who have been so negatively impacted by the pandemic.”
Massel said everyone needs to understand how critical contact tracing is. Declining calls from tracers could mean unknowingly spreading the virus to others.