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Answering the call: Local health district hotline helps spread virus information

Sometimes, you just want to hear a calm voice.

Thomas Jefferson Health District officials say the public has had a positive response to their COVID-19 hotline, which provides real people to answer questions regarding the pandemic’s spread into the region.

The hotline, (434) 972-6261, provides assistance for people with questions ranging from where to get tested to illness-related financial assistance.

“It’s a general information hotline for the region, and we’re providing folks with the best information we can about a variety of subjects,” said Jason Elliott, deputy public information officer for the health district and the man overseeing the line.

The health district has been posting information on its Facebook and Twitter pages regarding the number of cases reported locally. It also has a variety of information on its website,, from prevention tips to symptoms and links to other agencies.

But, Elliott noted, not everyone has a computer or internet access. Some people, he said, just need to talk with a human.

“A lot of the information we offer is available online, but there’s nothing really comforting about staring at a [computer] screen,” he said. “Sometimes, people just need to hear a friendly voice.”

The telephone resource operates from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. Since the hotline went live on March 10, it has received hundreds of calls.

The first telephone hotline was created in England in 1953 and the first in the U.S. was the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center hotline in 1958.

The concept has been used for every sort of topic, from sexual assault and domestic violence to health organizations and issues to local government actions.

For the Thomas Jefferson Health District, the increasing government response to the rising number of COVID-19 cases led to the need for an information line that clients and the general public could call to get answers.

“We try to put as much information out there as we can, and a lot of it goes online, but not everyone is online or has access to computers,” Elliott said. “When there’s a lot of information, it’s easy to get lost trying to figure it out.”

The department line is not staffed by medical personnel, however. Those who answer the phone do not offer medical advice. They can give advice on topics from testing locations to social restrictions, however.

“We’ve gotten a wide range of calls from folks who are wanting to know where to get tested or what the symptoms are and how it’s transmitted, to people who call and say, ‘I need to know what resources are available’ and ask about financial resources,” he said.

“We’re not a medical hotline, so if folks are worried about symptoms or testing, we refer them either to their primary care physician or other medical resources,” Elliott said. “The one thing we tell them if they want to get tested or see a doctor is to call first. Make sure to call and make arrangements so they don’t show up and have to wait or be turned away.”

Elliott said the hotline will be up and running as long as people are using it.

“As long as we need it, we’ll keep it going,” he said.


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