Ohio set up a hotline for questions about coronavirus. It can take time to get answers.

Posted at 6:34 PM, Mar 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-11 10:33:54-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Health has averaged two calls per minute to a hotline set up to allow the public to ask health officials questions about the coronavirus (COVID-19) since it went live Friday, according to Melanie Amato, Press Secretary, Ohio Department of Health.

Given the high level of public concern about coronavirus since three cases were confirmed in Cuyahoga County Monday, News 5 wanted to find out just how easy it is gets answers when you dial the call center.

Our team called the hotline’s number, 1-833-4-ASK-ODH, ten times on Tuesday between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m.

We were able to get through to a health official only once.

The other nine times we dialed, we got a busy signal.

“That just tells you that there’s a lot of people like you trying to get information,” said Amato.

Like we did, Amato said callers should try to reach the hotline again if they get a busy signal when they call.

“They just need to continue to be patient because somebody will eventually pick up that call,” she said.

Amato said ODH has plenty of information available about coronavirus on its website.

When people reached the call center, Amato said many callers want guidance about their travel plans and whether they should cancel upcoming trips.

Other callers want to know about where to buy hand sanitizer or other supplies.

Some callers ask about safety precautions, even wondering whether it’s safe to handle paper money and coins. (It is, said Amato.)

“And that's good,” said Amato. “Because the call center is designed to help people get rid of anxiety and fears and we wanted them to have a trusted place that they can get their answers from.”

Amato said the call center is staffed by 18 public health officials, including at least one nurse and one epidemiologist who can answer medical questions. They're working up to 11 hours a day to meet the demand for information.

When we asked how long ODH is prepared to operate the hotline, Amato said, “As long as we need to.”

The call center is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and can be reached at 1-833-4-ASK-ODH (1-833-427-5634).

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