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Public Safety

San Diego Has A Coronavirus Hotline Available, But Few Are Using It

Adrian Carstens, a 2-1-1 San Diego client services supervisor, wears a headset while sitting at his computer at the nonprofit's call center, Feb. 27, 2020.
Tarryn Mento
Adrian Carstens, a 2-1-1 San Diego client services supervisor, wears a headset while sitting at his computer at the nonprofit's call center, Feb. 27, 2020.

2-1-1 San Diego phone operators are ready to answer the public’s questions about novel coronavirus — the global outbreak of a new pneumonia-like illness that’s reached the U.S. — but so far calls are barely trickling in.

Despite international concerns about coronavirus misinformation, the nonprofit county contractor said few San Diegans are seeking its 24/7 services for updates on the disease that has infected more than 94,000, killed at least 3,200 worldwide, including people in Washington State and California, which declared a statewide emergency Wednesday.

Officials at 2-1-1 San Diego received 11 calls since late January and attributed the low number of calls to the county making information regularly available, especially on its website.

Video: San Diego County 211 Call Center Ready To Answer Coronavirus Questions

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Adrian Carstens, a client services supervisor, said information the call center provides is similar to what's posted to the Health and Human Service Agency's website, but some people may still wish to call to hear a reassuring voice over the phone.

"We would want to let them know that we have information that’s approved and verified by our leadership here locally that right now there is no cause for panic," Carstens said, noting 2-1-1 will help callers find the right outside entity if there's a question operators can't answer.

The nonprofit regularly provides information and enrollment support for public services, such as CalFresh, but it’s also activated during emergencies like fires to provide urgent updates and keep 911 operators free.

Carstens remembered during the 2017 Lilac Fire taking a call from an elderly and disabled San Diegan who was in an evacuation zone.

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"We were able to get them pointed to the right source of emergency assistance and they were able to get to safety," he said.

A surge of calls is expected during immediate threats like this; the local hepatitis outbreak generated more than 700 calls during the first month 2-1-1 began tracking them. Crisis communications director Ray Chaney said so far that hasn’t been the case with coronavirus, which hasn't greatly affected the local community except two patients from a nearby quarantine site, but he's staying up on developments in the event that changes or another disaster emerges.

"We do a lot of monitoring around here, whether its on social media or I’m listening to radios," Chaney said.

The county's coronavirus website and 2-1-1 are directing San Diegans who think they may be infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel virus, to contact their health care provider to assess if they need to be seen and allow staff to take precautions if they need to go to a facility.

Some local providers, including Scripps Health and Sharp HealthCare, also directed their website visitors to 2-1-1 for additional coronavirus information, which can keep phone lines clear for patients who need care.

San Diego Has A Coronavirus Hotline Available, But Few Are Using It
Listen to this story by Tarryn Mento.