As part of the local transition into Stage Three of the “Maryland Strong Roadmap to Recovery," the St. Mary’s County Health Department closed its COVID-19 Community Hotline last Friday.
“The COVID-19 Community Hotline has taken nearly 6,000 calls and coordinated testing for over 1,000 community members since its opening in March,” Dr. Meena Brewster, health officer for the county, said in a press release. “We are thankful for the partnership and support from St. Mary’s County government in launching this emergency hotline. Our health department team is still available to answer community questions and provide needed support relating to COVID-19.”
In St. Mary’s, 1,186 confirmed cases of the virus had been recorded as of Thursday morning, with 56 deaths occurring in county residents in any jurisdiction and 27 deaths of people documented as non-St. Mary’s County residents (most at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home and local nursing homes) occurring within the county.
When asked why the hotline is being closed now, a representative from the health department replied via email on Brewster’s behalf.
“As the pandemic response has stretched over months now, we have seen calls to the hotline decreasing over time. The decision to direct general calls back to the health department was made in consideration of this decreasing call volume, the county government’s need to reutilize their facility spaces, and recognition that the hotline number may also be needed for other emergency events, given what is predicted to be a very active hurricane season,” the spokesperson said.
According to the health department, the types of questions and needs for the hotline have varied over time.
“As the COVID-19 situation changed so did the primary reasons for calling the hotline. Many community members have called the hotline for clarification on changing regulations or on public health recommendations. More recently, we have seen many questions relating to COVID-19 testing sites and home isolation,” the representative said.
Commissioner President Randy Guy (R), who was diagnosed with COVID-19 in June but has since recovered, said he “wasn’t really sure” if this was the right time to close the hotline, but commissioners were told by the health department the volume of calls were so low, it wasn’t worth the manpower from the six or seven people working it, especially with COVID-19 information available online.
Guy mentioned the decision came strictly from the health department and commissioners had “nothing to do with it.”
“It’s served its purpose,” Commissioner John O’Connor (R) told Southern Maryland News this week. “We’re right on track with [the Maryland governor’s] Roadmap to Recovery and are making progress.”
He said there was an “eclectic use of the line,” with residents calling in to inquire about getting tested for the virus, asking about how the virus will impact them and making business claims.
Community members with questions relating to COVID-19 may call the St. Mary’s County Health Department directly at 301-475-4330. Information on various topics, such as testing, local data and travel recommendations are also available on the county’s health department website at www.smchd.org/coronavirus/.