Barnstable County COVID Helpline Winding Down as Cases Decline

COVID-19 illustration by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

HYANNIS – With COVID’s latest surge drawing to an end and general case and hospitalization counts remaining low, municipalities across the region are relaxing mandates and scaling back testing sites. 

Amid the most recent decline, Barnstable County’s COVID hotline, a core service of the county’s pandemic response, is also winding down. 

Health Communications Coordinator for the county’s Department of Health and Environment Bethany Traverse said that early in the pandemic, a need was quickly identified by health officials that Cape Cod’s older demographic would have a more difficult time keeping up with the latest COVID information. 

With residents inundating the health department with calls and questions, Barnstable County Commissioners and the health department worked to start up a volunteer-run call center to help take off some of the pressure on staff, as well as provide a reassuring and knowledgeable voice on the latest pandemic info. 

Traverse, other county officials and the tech department, worked together remotely over the course of two weeks to get the call center up and running as case numbers climbed in January of 2021. 

The hotline clearly met a need, said Traverse, as the call center had over 300 callers in its first day alone. The initial ten volunteers from the Medical Reserve Corps were expanded to 20 in the coming weeks, which has waxed and waned with the pandemic’s surges. 

Between January and April of 2021 alone, they had received nearly 58,000 phone calls, estimated to be about 3,500 volunteer hours, said Traverse.

“It was a big effort, and mostly volunteer-based. Obviously we did have county staff supporting the volunteers, because any type of large-scale volunteer effort requires a really good support system to keep volunteers supported in terms of information.”

Weekly and daily updates, as well as municipal meetings with local towns and state officials, ensured that the volunteers were up to date on the latest pandemic guidelines.

Traverse said that especially when vaccines were beginning to roll out, a lot of pressure was placed on the volunteers to ensure they had the most up-to-date information on how to sign up and what the differences were in vaccine brands.

“A lot of our volunteers are not super high-tech people—some of them are, but some of them are not—but they were willing to dive right in and learn everything they needed to know to be able to communicate effectively with the callers and also with the team,” said Traverse. 

Traverse added that amid the first come, first served nature of early vaccine sign ups, older generations were at a disadvantage in the online space and the call center was there to assist those who needed help.

As the cases continue to decline, Traverse said the call center has been scaled back, but will be ready to redouble its efforts again in case of possible surges brought on by coronavirus variants in the future. 

Barnstable County’s COVID-19 Helpline webpage can be found here.

About Grady Culhane

Grady Culhane is a Cape Cod native currently living in Eastham. He studied media communications at Cape Cod Community College and joined the News Center in 2019.
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