clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Wisconsin in danger of returning to Chicago’s travel advisory

City officials on Monday also announced the 31 community-based organizations that have been chosen to hire and train Chicago’s $56 million contact tracing corps.

The Wisconsin Welcome Sign is seen in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, on April 6, 2020. 
Chicagoans returning from Wisconsin, or people in Wisconsin visiting Chicago, would be urged to self-quarantine if the state ends up on the city’s travel advisory list. Wisconsin already spent three weeks on the list.
AFP/Getty Images

Wisconsin has been an on-again-off-again state on Chicago’s 14-day quarantine list. But it looks like the state might be going back on again.

For the second time in two months, Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady is warning Wisconsin it is getting perilously close to joining the list, which is triggered by averaging more than 15 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period.

The city’s travel advisory list is updated every Tuesday, with changes taking effect the following Friday. That list currently includes 21 states. Wisconsin was added July 31 and removed three weeks later.

“We are watching Wisconsin with huge concern. They had their highest-ever number of cases of COVID reported last Thursday. They’ve had percent positivities in the 13-to-17% range,” Arwady said Monday.

In states that are “directly bordering,” the city has taken pains to give Chicagoans who travel there “pre-warning.” Such states have been put on notice for a week and added to the list the following week if they can’t turn things around.

“Indiana was able to make those improvements. Did not need to be added. We can hope Wisconsin turns it around, but” it doesn’t look good, Arwady said.

“My expectation is that we will basically put people on alert for Wisconsin. That if they are not able to turn this around, they would be added to the list the following week. But the bottom line is really from right now, if people can avoid the travel [to Wisconsin], they should do so. It won’t be probably in the formal quarantine order unless it stays up for another week. But, things are not looking good in Wisconsin broadly.”

Despite an earlier threat to levy fines, the travel advisory is more educational than real. Compliance is strictly voluntary. Even so, adding Wisconsin to the list for a second time could make Chicagoans think twice before taking day trips to Wisconsin to see the fall colors, traveling to Lake Geneva or vacationing in Door County or the Wisconsin Dells.

Arwady issued the warning after joining Mayor Lori Lightfoot to announce the 31 community-based organizations that have been chosen to hire and train Chicago’s $56 million contact tracing corps.

In late May, Lightfoot announced plans to assemble a 600-strong army to trace 4,500 new contacts each day. Roughly 150 of those tracers were supposed be hired by Aug. 1, with the rest in place by Sept. 15.

But it looks like the mayor’s timetable was a bit ambitious. So far, only about 100 job offers have been made, Arwady said.

“There’s always some bumps in the road in terms of figuring out things like payrolls and figuring out all of the logistics in place. But we are feeling good about where we are. … I would say we’re right on track,” the commissioner said.

Arwady noted the Chicago Department of Public Health has assumed the primary responsibility for contact tracing by pulling people in from other city departments and by using Health Department employees normally assigned to maternal and child health, Tuberculosis and HIV.

Last week, 89% of positive test results for the coronavirus were sent to case investigators within 24 hours of receipt.

“We will continue to track that and build it with these new partners,” she said.

Last week, 57% of case investigations were “fully completed.” That’s short of the 70% goal.

“Some room to grow there. But very much in line with what we’re seeing across the country,” Arwady said.

“Making use of trusted health care partners and community-based partners is one thing that makes us confident we’ll be able to even further improve on some of those metrics.”

The city’s goal is “privacy first and foremost,” Arwady said. To reassure Chicagoans concerned about sharing sensitive information, the city will launch a new tech platform using the telephone number: 312-74COVID — or, 312-742-6843.

“That will be one number that you will be seeing on your phone. ... It will also be a single number that you’ll be able to call back to because we know there are people who are concerned about scams and, ‘Are you really a contact tracer?’” she said.

Arwady remains concerned about the potential for a surge of coronavirus cases over the fall and winter coinciding with flu season and the impact that could have on the city’s health care system.

“Now is exactly the right time to be bringing these new partners into our approach,” the commissioner said.