CHICAGO (CBS) — Even as the CDC relaxes some COVID-19 guidelines, city and county officials say contact tracing is still going strong. Some contact tracers even have expanded their roles to include vaccine work.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Tim McNicholas shows us how it’s working.

“Right now, we’re still seeing significant numbers of new cases being reported on a daily basis,” said Dr. Rachel Rubin, co-lead and senior medical officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health.

Rubin said, if COVID cases drop significantly in the coming months, the number of contact tracers could drop too. But for now, it’s full speed ahead.

“We are also using our tracers to engage individuals in talking about vaccination and encouraging vaccination,” Rubin said.

Data from the State of Illinois shows the Cook County health department has attempted to reach 32 percent of positive COVID cases, and they’ve successfully interviewed about 22 percent.

That’s below the statewide average of 70 percent attempted, and 53 percent interviewed.

But the county sent us numbers only from 2021, showing a strong improvement.

“You shouldn’t be looking at those statistics that go back 6 to 8 months. You should be seeing what we’re really doing since we’ve been able to ramp up our full workforce,” Rubin said.

The county says they’ve tried to reach 72 percent of cases since Jan. 1, and interviewed 50 percent.

For close contacts of those cases, they’ve tried 90 percent, and interviewed 74 percent.

“Contact tracing is a really hard job,” said Dr. Emily Gurley, who teaches a free contact tracing course with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Gurley said health departments across the U.S. have had their hands full.

“As more and more people are vaccinated, hopefully we’ll have less transmission, but we do have a virus that’s mutating,” she said.

With 32 million total cases in the U.S., and nearly one in ten having tested positive at some point, is contact tracing still worth it? Gurley says absolutely.

“That just means the contact tracing programs we have aren’t enough to completely stop transmission, but that doesn’t mean they’re not preventing cases and deaths,” Gurley said.

Gurley expects that, as more people get vaccinated, the caseload will be more manageable for contact tracing programs in Cook County and beyond.

State data also shows the city lagging behind the Illinois average for cases and contacts interviewed, but the city says that doesn’t include the automated messages they are sending out for positive cases.

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