It’s right there in black and white: contact tracing is a key part of Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan. To move from Phase 2 to Phase 3, permitting the opening of child care, retail, and gatherings of 10 or fewer people, requires the beginnings of “contact tracing and monitoring within 24 hours of diagnosis.” To move from Phase 3 to Phase 4, permitting the opening of restaurants, personal care services, health clubs, and schools, as well as gatherings of 50 or fewer people, requires fully scaled-up contract tracing, that is, “for more than 90% of cases in region.”
But as I wrote last Saturday at the Chicago Tribune, however crucial contact tracing is, the state has provided virtually no information on its timing or its progress in implementing the program.
Only just today did the Department of Public Health provide a press release on the topic (can I take credit for this?), informing residents that county public health departments will actually be running the initiative, with funding and technical support from the state, and with Partners in Health in an advisory role. Two specific counties will be “immediately” piloting the program. The governor further stated at today’s (Monday’s) press briefing that at present 29% of diagnoses are “engaged in a tracing process” and “that’s a number we want to push as high as possible, to the industry standard of over 60%.”
Despite this, last week Pritzker announced that “all regions across the state are now on track to meet the metrics needed to move into the next phase of reopening.”
How does this make sense? With only 11 days until the first possible “Phase 3” date, and with only a 2-county pilot program in place, how can the state be on track to meet its Phase 3 contact tracing requirement?
And how does a verbal target of aiming for “the industry standard of 60%” match up with the Phase 4 requirement of 90%?
What’s more, the state provides regular updates to metrics in the areas of testing and hospital admissions and resources, but no updates on contact tracing.
It’s as if they’ve forgotten about these requirements.
Has the state abandoned them, that is, continuing to strive for additional capacity but no longer requiring implementation/scaling to move to the next phase?
And, if so, why is the state not revising its plan, but instead simply treating them as if they don’t exist?
My guess: the governor knows there is tremendous pressure to revise other components of the plan: the inclusion of very geographically distinct counties adjacent to “collar counties” in the same region as Chicago, the continued closure of restaurants until Phase 4, the limitation on gatherings to 50 persons regardless of the capacity of a given facility, and so on. Were he to revise the contact tracing component, he would further increase calls for revisions of other sorts. So long as no one with any particularly strong voice or much political power calls him on this, he continues to be enabled to insist that his plan is unchangeable, set in stone, rather than risking opening it up to the sort of negotiation which he insists is impossible because he is guided solely by “science” and “data”.
Now, this is an admittedly cynical answer, but I can’t make sense of this any other way. And, much as I hate for it to be true, as it implicates a wide range of bureaucrats as well in this convenient omission, it does, at the same time, offer some firmer reason to believe that, however painfully delayed Phases 3 and 4 are implemented, however many restaurants and other small business will shut down, it will at least not be delayed even further.
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