CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Many West Virginians call the COVID-19 hotline every day to ask questions about quarantine, vaccines and symptoms related to the virus. But, who are the people on the other side of the phone?
Meet the West Virginia COVID-19 Hotline team, or the West Virginia Poison Center.
“We were asked in the first week of March to activate our disaster line for coronavirus 19,” said Dr. Elizabeth Scharman, Executive Director of the West Virginia Poison Center and the lead for the West Virginia COVID-19 Hotline.
Dealing with disasters isn’t new to Dr. Scharman and her team of eight people. It’s common for them to activate their disaster hotline for different reasons in the state.
“Most of those disasters are usually short-term. A few days, maybe a few weeks,” said Dr. Scharman.
But what they didn’t know opening the COVID-19 hotline was that they would be in for a marathon.
The center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and COVID didn’t change that for them.
“Now, on the initial stage of COVID, they were each putting in 10, 15 hours of overtime on top of that,” said Dr. Scharman.
And, at the center’s peak, they were taking hundreds of calls a day.
“At its peak, we had 907 additional calls come in on top of our poison calls,” said Dr. Scharman.
The center still takes poison calls, and they’re seeing an uptick in calls related to cleaning supplies.
“We’ve had increased calls for hand sanitizer ingestion, bleach exposures. You know, we’ve got a lot more people and a lot of different agents using bleach,” said Dr. Scharman.
This business isn’t easy.
“It’s very difficult to run a hotline and take call after call after call.”