COVID-19 contact tracing training program now accepting applicants at Oakton Community College

Illinois health officials have said Illinois needs about 3,800 contract tracers statewide.

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Phlebotomist Alex Murphy, with Simple Laboratories, draws blood for coronavirus antibody testing at the lab’s drive-thru testing site in the parking lot of St. Rosalie Catholic Parish in Harwood Heights, Friday, May 1, 2020.

A man is tested for COVID-19 in Harwood Heights, Friday, May 1, 2020.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

A suburban community college is answering the government’s call to help create an army of contact tracers needed to track and stop the spread of COVID-19.

Oakton Community College is accepting applicants for its Public Health Contact Tracer Paraprofessional training program, an online course set to begin May 26.

“Navigating the online curriculum at their own pace, students can complete the course in as little as three weeks and begin protecting members of their own communities,” the north suburban school said in its announcement of the new class.

In contact tracing, public health staff work with a diseased patient to help them recall everyone with whom they’ve had close contact while infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Contact tracers then warn those contacts — as well as anyone who came into contact with them — of their potential exposure.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he’s invested $80 million to the state’s contact tracing program initiative. So far, Illinois has confirmed 65,962 cases of the virus and more than 2,800 deaths.

Illinois needs about 3,800 contract tracers statewide, or about 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 people, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the state health department, has said.

Contact tracing has showed how one so-called “super-spreader” in Chicago spread the coronavirus to 15 others in early February, leading to the deaths of three people. After the first case of person-to-person transmission of the coronavirus in the U.S. was detected in the Chicago area, contact tracers hunted down their close contacts, which included health care workers.

A single contact tracer requires around a full day to call an infected person’s entire chain of direct and indirect contacts, Dr. John Schneider, a University of Chicago faculty member, told the Sun-Times last week.

The Oakton course, which costs $299, is open to anyone 18 years and older with a high school degree or equivalent. The curriculum covers topics including epidemiology, recognizing health disparities and inequities, contact tracing techniques and health care privacy laws.

“Ensuring that the close contacts are identified for every person who has been infected with COVID-19 is crucial to controlling the spread of disease in the community,” Dr. Catherine Counard, director of health at the Village of Skokie, said in the school’s release.

Contact tracers can earn $28 per hour, and typically work from home, the school said in its release.

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