CHICAGO (CBS) — Experts say in the months ahead, there could be hundreds of thousands of contact tracers needed nationwide, and the State of Illinois said they may hire a few thousand.

Some South Side residents are pushing for tracing and training in their neighborhoods, and as CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas reported Monday, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) is joining the fight.

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“We’ve got to step up and do it,” said Jennifer Edwards.

Edwards is a proud South Sider, and she wants her friends and neighbors to be healthy.

“If we do the contact tracing, that’s the only way we’re going to be able to get a handle on this,” she said.

That is why Edwards hopped online and signed up for a free, five-hour online contact tracing course from Johns Hopkins University. Edwards is a neighborhood activist who is calling for extensive contact tracing and training.

“We want people from our communities to be trained,” said her friend, Matt Brandon. “The training is important because it offers job opportunities for a lot of people who are out of work.”

Rep. Bobby Rush has introduced a bill that would create a $100 billion funding stream for health centers, nonprofits, and universities to beef up the country’s tracing, training, and testing.

It’s called the COVID-19 Testing, Reaching, And Contacting Everyone, or TRACE, Act, and Rush said the goal is to make sure people in hard-hit minority communities get trained on contact tracing.

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“You’re going to have to need a trusted contact tracer,” Rush said. “You just can’t come in from the outside and ask people for information. They’re not going to trust you.”

Contact tracers gather information from COVID-19 positive patients about whom they’ve been around and where. Tracers then try to get a hold of those people and let them know.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said confirmed contacts should stay away from other people for two weeks, and if they have COVID-19 symptoms, they might need treatment or testing.

“We know a lot of our neighbors,” Edwards said. “We do have community groups that are involved.”

Edwards said if people from hard-hit neighborhoods are the contact tracers, they might have better luck than an outsider in finding someone’s contact information or getting honest answers.

“We can get to people a little bit better maybe than someone could,” Edwards said.

Oakton Community College in Des Plaines has a 25-hour, free online course in contact training, but it is currently full.

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With so many details still being developed, it is not clear yet what type or amount of training might be needed for these contact tracing jobs.

Tim McNicholas