Utah Coronavirus Hotline Sees Call Surge After Recent Announcement

Mar 12, 2020, 11:14 PM | Updated: 11:19 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — As the number of cases of COVID-19 rises, so does the call volume for the Utah Coronavirus Information line, a number set up for those with symptoms, questions or concerns.

For days now, state leaders have urged people with symptoms to call before visiting the doctor. The Utah Department of Health even set up a hotline (1-800-456-7707) so people aren’t overwhelming healthcare providers.

The center taking those calls is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of the coronavirus. But unbeknownst to the many callers over the last week, the Utah Poison Control Center at the University of Utah Health campus has also become somewhat of the center for information about COVID-19.

“The phone’s ringing nonstop,” said Dr. Michael Moss, Utah Poison Control Center medical director. “People have lots of questions and we’re here to help. Things have really ramped up in the last few days.”

Moss said their typical 100-to-120 calls a day about poison turned into hundreds of calls about the coronavirus on Wednesday when state health officials confirmed a third case in Summit County, followed by President Donald Trump’s travel restriction announcement and the news of Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert’s positive test results.

On Thursday, hundreds more called in in a matter of hours around the time Gov. Gary Herbert announced new recommendations to help stop any potential spread of the virus.

“We’re always used to learning about new information because that’s what happens with poisoning, whether it’s a new thing about vaping or tide pods,” Moss said. “We’re just working around the clock to stay on top of the new information that comes from the CDC or Utah Department of Health.”

Visitors to various urgent cares and doctor’s offices have reported seeing the number taped outside the entrance, along with a message warning people with a fever, cough or shortness of breath to call instead of coming in.

A call to the number will bring you to a recorded voice, saying “Welcome to the Utah coronavirus information line.” You’ll then be prompted to ask a number of questions like, “Have you traveled to an area with widespread COVID-19 transmission or had contact with a person infected with COVID-19?” “If you are experiencing symptoms including fever, cough or shortness of breath press two.”

Stay on the line long enough and you’ll have the option to speak with a trained healthcare professional. Moss said the number of staff answering calls has tripled at times to keep up with demand. They might encourage you to stay home, refer you to a doctor or, depending on your answers, recommend testing.

“It’s a pretty case-by-case basis,” Moss said. “As testing has been limited, we’re having to do with the people who will most likely have a positive test because we don’t want to not have enough tests available for the patients that are at highest risk and those that are sickest.”

Coronavirus Resources

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How Do I Prevent It?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The CDC does not recommend wearing a facemask respirator to protect yourself from coronavirus unless a healthcare professional recommends it.

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Utah Coronavirus Hotline Sees Call Surge After Recent Announcement