Will County Health Department looks to increase its contact tracing capacity

The Will County Health Department is aiming to increase its capacity to perform contact tracing, a key aspect of the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.

To slow the spread of the virus, contact tracers reach out to someone who tests positive to make sure they’re self-isolating, and then attempt to find out who they were in contact with who might also be at risk of infection.

While agencies like the Will County Health Department typically have employees to perform contact tracing, public health officials are pushing to ramp up the state’s capacity by hiring new tracers.

The county’s health department has 18 workers performing contact tracing, with the ability to add about four more employees from within the agency, spokesman Steve Brandy said.

Brandy said the department wants to remain flexible for any potential increase in COVID-19 cases, especially for later in the year.

“They want to be ready,” Brandy said.

Sue Olenek, executive director of the health department, said local capacity to contact trace has been adequate so far, but there are plans to hire more people, Brandy said.

On Monday, Gov. JB Pritzker announced a new effort to assess the state’s 97 local health departments’ abilities to expand and deploy contact tracers. Through federal funding, the Illinois Department of Public Health will support new hires for local health departments, according to a news release.

Pritzker said in the release that adequate contact tracing was key to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and for allowing the state’s economy to safely reopen going forward.

“Knowing if you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 gives everyday Illinoisans the ability to keep their families and co-workers and friends safe by helping them seek testing or self-isolate,” Pritzker said in the release.

Anyone interested in working as a contact tracer can fill out an application form on the Illinois Department of Public Health's website.

Visit dph.illinois.gov/covid19 for more information.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.