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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

As COVID Cases Rise, McLean County Expands Contact Tracing

Carla and Jessica at the meeting
Sarah Nardi
Carla Pohl, left, president of the Board of Health, and Jessica McKnight, administrator of the McLean County Health Department, at the board's meeting Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020.

The McLean County Health Department is gearing up to expand contract tracing efforts in response to rising cases of COVID-19.

Administrator Jessica McKnight said the department plans to hire 15 contact tracers by the end of the week, and hopes a second round of hiring will add 10 to 12 more tracers sometime in September.

At a special meeting on Wednesday, the McLean County Board of Health voted to approve contracts for the new positions.

In response to the question of why hiring was just starting now, McKnight explained that in the initial phases of the pandemic, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) planned to handle the hiring and training of contact tracers.

But somewhere along the line, McKnight said IDPH decided to grant funding to individual health departments instead so that “infrastructure could be built up regionally.”

“We’ve been doing interviews,” McKnight said, “And now that we have these contracts approved, we’ll move forward making offers tomorrow.”

“We need them now,” she added, noting McLean County set a single-day record on Wednesday with 51 new cases of COVID-19 reported.

The board also approved a memorandum of understanding between the McLean County Health Department (MCHD) and Illinois State University that will allow MCHD to assist with case investigation and contract tracing at the university.

McKnight said the memorandum was necessary because in investigating new cases, MCHD will need access to private health information.

ISU officials announced on Wednesday that more than 50 students have now tested positive for the coronavirus, including dozens in just the past week.

WGLT asked McKnight if contract tracing had a role to play when it came to large gatherings, like student parties.

“Contract tracing is a piece of the puzzle,” she said. “It’s one piece just like testing is one piece of the puzzle. But really what we need is people to be responsible in taking those measures that we encourage.”

McKnight listed the usual responses, including hand washing, face masks, and social distancing as necessary steps people should take to protect themselves and others.

“And not attending large gatherings,” she added. 

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Sarah Nardi is a WGLT reporter. She previously worked for the Chicago Reader covering Arts & Culture.
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