CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s a common buzzword these days, and a hot new career: contact tracing.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot just announced an effort to create 600 new jobs in poor Black and Latinx communities through a $56 million expansion of contact tracing in Chicago.

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Some 240,000 people signed up for a free online contact tracing training course from Johns Hopkins University.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Tim McNicholas is working to see what it’s all about, so he took the course as well.

It’s a five-hour course, so he’s been doing it in a few chunks at a time, not all at once.

First, you find the course on, create a free account, and jump right in. The course starts with videos explaining the basics of COVID-19 and contact tracing.

You’ll eventually see staged examples of contact tracing phone calls. They show how contact tracers ask people who’ve tested positive to stay at home and provide information on who they might have been around.

Contact tracers then ask for phone numbers and reach out to people who might have been infected to ask them to stay home for two weeks. The course can improve your knowledge and resume, but there’s no guarantee it will land you a job.

If you’re hired as a contact tracer, you’ll likely have to take more training through your city or local health department.

“This is meant to be the sort of first course someone would take, that gives the rationale, the basics, the steps as you’ve seen from taking the course,” said Dr. Melissa Marx, an epidemiologist with Johns Hopkins.

Marx said the course can give you a look at what to do on the job, and what not to do; like this example of a bad call.

Patient: “I’m really worried that my friends are all gonna get sick. Do you know if they’re gonna be okay?”

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Contact Tracer: “Um, thats not really why I’m calling. I just need to get some information from you.”

The course says contact tracers should listen to a contact’s concerns. They should even help find solutions for how to get groceries and other necessities.

At the end, you’ll take a 40-question final exam, and if you pass that, you’ll have a free certificate to add to your resume.

Anyone can sign up for that course at any time. We made sure of that beforehand because we didn’t want to be taking up someone else’s spot in the course.

That course is required for contact tracers in New York, but as of now, not in Illinois.

The city of Chicago said it is working with City Colleges of Chicago on a training program.

Oakton Community College also is offering contact tracing courses, but their classes are currently full.


CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

We’ll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

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Tim McNicholas