UPDATE 05/14/20 2:58 p.m.

Oakton Community College announced Thursday afternoon that it will now offer its contact tracing course for free, after state officials said “contact tracer training should be available at no cost to participants.”

“This training needs to be offered in an equitable manner. The generosity of the Oakton Educational Foundation and other charitable partners makes this possible, and aligns with our state official’s vision of making the training available at no cost to participants,” Joianne Smith, president of Oakton Community College, said in a news release.

Oakton will provide instructions with regard to refunds for students who already paid the $299 referenced below to enroll in the course.

More information on the Oakton course is available here.

DES PLAINES, Ill. (CBS) — Contact tracing is more than just a hot topic right now – some are hoping it could be their next job.

A community college in the suburbs plans to expand its online training course because demand is so high. CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas had a look inside the class Wednesday.

Oakton Community College in Des Plaines opened up enrollment for its contact tracing course last week. Within three days, the class was full and 200 people had signed up.

The school said it plans to add more spots to meet demand. A team is now busy putting together material for the courses, and they even sent us a few slides.

“we’ve understood the workforce need out there,” said Marc Bautista, Dean of Business and Career Technologies at the school.

Bautista said the courses will give applicants a leg up on some of the thousands of contact tracing jobs expected to open in the months ahead in Illinois.

“Most of these job opportunities will be with the local health departments, and we’re in contact with them trying to get more information,” Bautista said.

Oakton’s online course costs $299 and should take three to four weeks to complete.

The first course starts May 26 and will include slides, discussion boards, quizzes, exams, and video lectures.

“We have instructors that actually are working as contact tracers currently; people that have experience with this work,” Bautista said.

William Werner won’t be involved in the course. He’s already busy doing the real thing.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Werner said.

Werner is a retired internist who works with public health officials in Skokie to call confirmed COVID-19 patients and ask them questions about whom they’ve been around and when.

“This is where the real detective work begins,” he said. “If I asked you, ‘Where’ve you been in the last two weeks?’ it would be a little difficult to try to remember and track all that down.”

He does his best to get phone numbers for those contacts and reach out to them, and recommend a two-week quarantine – or in some cases, testing.

“We would not say, ‘Tim contaminated you,’” Werner said. “We don’t go to that extent. It’s an anonymous basis.”

Of course, there are limitations, and sometimes, the team simply can’t find contact information for everyone.

“If we can leverage technology, such as using smart phone technology, it would really go a long way,” Werner said.

Google and Apple are working together on a tool that would alert people if they have been near someone who was infected, by tracking phones and trading information using Bluetooth.

The companies said the tool will be voluntary, or only available to people who want to use it and want to share their data.

Some residents are asking their lawmakers to ensure contact tracing courses are easily accessible to people on the South Side in some of the neighborhoods particularly hit hard by the virus. U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) has introduced a bill aimed at addressing that.

Johns Hopkins University is also offering an online contact tracing course for free.

CBS Baltimore reported the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, with Bloomberg Philanthropies, launched the new course, “COVID-19 Contact Tracing.”

It teaches the basics of interviewing people diagnosed with COVID-19, finding their close contacts who may have been exposed, and giving them advice and support for self-quarantine, CBS Baltimore reported.

More information is available here.

Tim McNicholas