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Don’t fall for scammers posing as coronavirus contact tracers, Pritzker warns

More than 117,000 people have tested positive for the virus in four months, and more than 5,200 have died. Officials are counting on a bolstered contact tracing program to contain COVID-19 as reopenings continue.

A stylist wears a face shield as she does a color touch-up at Salon Antou, 808 Davis St. in Evanston, on Friday.
A stylist wears a face shield as she does a color touch-up at Salon Antou, 808 Davis St. in Evanston, on Friday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Health officials are warning Illinois residents not to fall for scammers prying for sensitive personal information as the state ramps up coronavirus contact tracing efforts to stem the pandemic.

As Illinois enters the third phase of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan, many residents can expect to get calls or text messages from professional tracers informing people they’ve been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, and urging them to self-isolate.

And the real tracers will never ask for money, Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Friday.

“There is no question contact tracing plays a vital role in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19, but there will be scammers pretending to be contact tracers and potentially trying to take advantage of how this process works,” Ezike said. “Please know that no contact tracers would be asking you for any money, or asking for Social Security numbers, bank account numbers or credit card numbers.

“We need to be vigilant and watch out for these scammers who unfortunately are on the prowl, and looking to take advantage of people. Contact tracing is just another part of our new normal,” Ezike said.

Pritzker announced earlier this month the state was investing $80 million into the statewide contact tracing program, which will include at least 3,800 professional tracers.

The state is still issuing grants to local health departments to bolster the program, which was only reaching about 30% of potential contacts as of Friday. The governor said he wants to get that number above 60%, and has highlighted it as a key indicator of when the state could advance to Phase 4 of his reopening plan, which would allow for gatherings of up to 50 people. The earliest that could happen is June 26.

“We want people to understand what contact tracing is,” he said. “They will provide you with information — that’s all they’re intended to do — provide you with information about the fact that you’ve been exposed to somebody, what your options are at that point and how you can get services if you need them.”

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Officials are looking to the tracing program to stifle the spread of the virus, which claimed another 86 lives by Friday, raising the state’s death toll to 5,270. Ezike also announced an additional 1,622 people have tested positive for the virus out of 21,796 tests administered a day earlier.

One of those new patients was reported in downstate Edgar County, which had been one of the final two counties that hadn’t tallied any COVID-19 cases over four months since Illinois’ first case was confirmed.

That leaves Scott County, about 55 miles west of Springfield, as the only county on the state map without any reported coronavirus cases. A total of 117,455 people have tested positive for the virus across Illinois’ other 101 counties.

Almost half the cases have stemmed from long-term care facilities, and the vast majority of patients have already recovered.