Olympia, WA, USA, March, 2020 -- A state Department of Health hotline and call center established to field calls about the coronavirus has experienced a high volume of calls since Monday, sometimes resulting in dropped calls or long wait times.
But a spokeswoman for the department said Wednesday that the size of the call center has been quadrupled and "additional capacity" in the form of more phone lines is coming.
The department also is working on setting up a backup call center, but spokeswoman Danielle Koenig acknowledged they are dealing with some "technical hurdles."
And an attempt by The Olympian to get through on the hotline proved it clearly is a work in progress.
A reporter called 800-525-0127 about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and waited more than nine minutes before the call was dropped. There’s a separate number for King County residents at 206-477-3977 but a reporter gave up after waiting five minutes for the call to be answered.
Koenig urged callers to be patient, and to check the DOH website about coronavirus before they call because many questions can be answered there.
One of the more common questions is "Am I at risk?" Koenig said that’s a topic covered on the DOH website.
Koenig also wanted to make clear Wednesday that if callers are sick, they should reach out to their doctor or clinic about their illness. Those answering calls in the call center are not in a position to diagnose, she said.
Coronavirus, known as COVID-19, is spread through contact between people within six feet of each other, especially through coughing and sneezing that expels respiratory droplets that land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. The CDC says it’s possible to catch COVID-19 by touching something that has the virus on it, and then touching your own face, "but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads."
Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath, which may occur two days to two weeks after exposure. The disease is especially dangerous for the elderly and others with weaker immune systems.
As of Wednesday, more than 95,000 cases have been reported worldwide, with about 3,200 deaths, the vast majority of them in China. In the U.S.,157 cases have been reported, including 10 deaths in Washington state.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Tuesday, March 10, 2020
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