Chicago Sun-Times

CONTACTERS & CON­TRAC­TORS

Chicago awards $56 mil­lion coro­n­avirus trac­ing pact amid pri­va­ti­za­tion com­plaints

- BY FRAN SPIEL­MAN, CITY HALL RE­PORTER fspiel­man@sun­times.com | @fspiel­man Public Health · U.S. News · Society · College · Higher Education · University of Illinois at Chicago · Illinois · University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign · University of Chicago · Malcolm X · U.S. Centers for Disease Control · Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen · Lori Lightfoot · Service Employees International Union · J.B. Pritzker · United States of America · Andrew Buchanan · University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health · National Opinion Research Center

A part­ner­ship that in­cludes Si­nai Ur­ban Health In­sti­tute and two prom­i­nent uni­ver­si­ties was cho­sen Tues­day to spear­head Chicago’s $56 mil­lion con­tact trac­ing pro­gram amid com­plaints about “pri­va­ti­za­tion.”

A re­quest for pro­pos­als that at­tracted two dozen ap­pli­cants cul­mi­nated in the award to Chicago Cook Work­force Part­ner­ship to mar­shal a 600-strong army of trac­ers drawn from Black and His­panic neigh­bor­hoods that have borne the brunt of the coro­n­avirus.

It’s a con­sor­tium with Si­nai Ur­ban Health In­sti­tute that in­cludes the University of Illi­nois at Chicago School of Pub­lic Health, NORC at the University of Chicago and Mal­colm X Col­lege.

The $56 mil­lion grant from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion and the Illi­nois De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health will sup­port the cre­ation of the COVID Con­tact Trac­ing Corps and the COVID Re­source Co­or­di­na­tion Hub.

The RFP re­quires the part­ner­ship to “sub­grant” 85% of the $56 mil­lion to 30 neigh­bor­hood-based or­ga­ni­za­tions lo­cated “within or pri­mar­ily serv­ing” res­i­dents of com­mu­ni­ties of eco­nomic hard­ship that also have been most heav­ily af­fected by coro­n­avirus cases and deaths.

The neigh­bor­hood groups will be cho­sen af­ter a sec­ond round of com­pet­i­tive bid­ding to re­cruit, train, hire and sup­port an army of 600 trac­ers with the ca­pac­ity to trace 4,500 new con­tacts each day.

“COVID-19’s out­ra­geously dis­pro­por­tion­ate im­pact on Chicago’s most vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties has de­manded that we as a city step up and take swift ac­tion to sup­port our fel­low res­i­dents in need,” Mayor Lori Light­foot was quoted as say­ing in a news re­lease.

Health Com­mis­sioner Dr. Al­li­son Ar­wady said a “ro­bust and com­pre­hen­sive” con­tact trac­ing pro­gram is piv­otal to “con­tain­ing the spread of COVID-19 and driv­ing down the number of new cases.”

“We in­sisted that this pro­gram not only fo­cus on com­mu­ni­ties most im­pacted by the virus, but that the part­ner­ship and its sub-del­e­gates hire from these neigh­bor­hoods to build the con­tact trac­ing corps,” Ar­wady was quoted as say­ing.

Group: City should re­build pub­lic health in­fra­struc­ture

Matt Bran­don, former sec­re­tary-trea­surer of SEIU Lo­cal 73 and now pres­i­dent of Com­mu­ni­ties Or­ga­nized to Win, strongly dis­agreed. Bran­don ar­gued the city’s de­ci­sion to “pri­va­tize” con­tact trac­ing would lead to lower-paid, part-time jobs.

“We know what hap­pens when pri­vate con­trac­tors get money. They cut the salaries down. And they make most of the work part time. We don’t want that to hap­pen,” Bran­don said be­fore join­ing a coali­tion of groups urg­ing Gov. J.B. Pritzker to halt “il­le­gal out­sourc­ing,” as they called it.

“This will be the first time in the United States that con­tact trac­ers are not headed by the state or mu­nic­i­pal de­part­ment of pub­lic health. It’s a vi­o­la­tion of state law, for one thing. And we don’t think a pri­vate con­trac­tor has the same in­ter­est as our pub­lic health de­part­ment. We also be­lieve this is an op­por­tu­nity for the city to be­gin to re­build all of the in­fra­struc­ture of pub­lic health that’s been taken out of our com­mu­ni­ties over the years.”

Ald. Jeanette Tay­lor (20th) doesn’t buy the mayor’s prom­ise to hire lo­cal res­i­dents as con­tact trac­ers. Nor does she be­lieve area res­i­dents will trust the army as­sem­bled by the part­ner­ship.

“Why not give it to com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions that we trust? Why is there al­ways a mid­dle­man? The mid­dle­man has got­ten us bad con­trac­tors and peo­ple not work­ing. That’s what the mid­dle­man has got­ten us,” Tay­lor said.

“Do you think I’m gonna tell some stranger that I don’t know, who’s not from my com­mu­nity? That’s the equiv­a­lent of going to a clinic. Do you think I’m gonna tell a stranger my sex­ual history? Do you think I’m gonna tell ’em who I’ve been around, es­pe­cially when I’m around some­body I’m not sup­posed to? I’m just tired of us giv­ing our money away to folks . . . who don’t nec­es­sar­ily view the com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions like they’re sup­posed to. They don’t do any of the stuff that the com­mu­nity would do.”

Ald. Byron Sig­cho-Lopez (25th) said Chicago needs “at least 30 con­tact trac­ers for ev­ery 100,000 res­i­dents.”

“We have 2.7 mil­lion res­i­dents. We should be hav­ing at least 810 con­tact trac­ers. The ad­min­is­tra­tion has only al­lo­cated fund­ing for 450 of them. So we’re short at least 360 trac­ers. That goes back to the is­sue of fund­ing and pri­va­ti­za­tion. If we con­tinue to give re­sources to pri­vate com­pa­nies, that’s less money for ac­tual poli­cies,” the al­der­man said.

Health De­part­ment spokesman An­drew Buchanan said the city will have the 810 trac­ers it needs when the new hires are added to 200 trac­ers al­ready on staff.

Con­tact trac­ing is the painstak­ing process of iden­ti­fy­ing and track­ing down ev­ery­one who has come in “close, pro­longed con­tact” with some­one who tests pos­i­tive for COVID-19.

The city’s plan calls for trac­ers to be paid $20 an hour, plus health ben­e­fits. Su­per­vi­sors will get an hourly wage of $24.

 ?? PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES ?? Lo­cal of­fi­cials, com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ers and res­i­dents hold a press con­fer­ence out­side the down­town Thompson Cen­ter on Tues­day, call­ing on Gov. J.B. Pritzker to stop the Chicago De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health from out­sourc­ing COVID-19 con­tact tracer and test­ing jobs to pri­vate en­ti­ties.
PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES Lo­cal of­fi­cials, com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ers and res­i­dents hold a press con­fer­ence out­side the down­town Thompson Cen­ter on Tues­day, call­ing on Gov. J.B. Pritzker to stop the Chicago De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health from out­sourc­ing COVID-19 con­tact tracer and test­ing jobs to pri­vate en­ti­ties.

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