Operators at a call center set up at the city’s emergency operations center are fielding questions Del Rioans are asking about the novel coronavirus and the steps being taken to combat its spread.

Area residents with questions about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and the details of local disaster declarations aimed at slowing its spread in the community can call (830) 775-2313.

The call center is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Its Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and it is closed on Sunday.

The call center has been in operation since March 18 and as of March 24, had taken a total of 235 calls, Del Rio Community Services Director Esme Meza said Thursday.

Meza has been moved from her normal duties to captain the call center and its three operators, who are also city employees who have been reassigned to the call center during the coronavirus crisis.

“At the beginning, people were just looking for information about COVID-19, and when city and county issued the disaster declarations, people were calling to ask for clarification on the number of people who could gather in one place, which in the first declaration was 50 people. They were asking if they could still have weddings, funerals,” Meza said.

Questions about the disease itself ran the gamut, she said.

“They were asking, if they had symptoms, what should they do, and we have a flow chart from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that we follow. We refer them to their primary care physician or to the Val Verde Regional Medical Center’s nurse line, so they can talk to a medical professional. We tell them the information we have readily available, but then we also refer them to medical professionals,” she said.

Meza said the call center operators track the number of calls received every day as well as the subjects of questions.

Questions asked with most frequency include those about COVID-19 and where to get help, the city and county’s disaster declarations and their restrictions, travel and businesses.

“On March 20, we got a lot of questions about travel, people wanting to know if they could travel out of town. They had a doctor’s appointment out of town, and they asked if they should keep that appointment, and we advised them to consult with their physician or dentist or whoever their appointment was with,” Meza said.

“After the amended disaster declarations were issued, we got a lot of calls from businesses asking if they should stay open. They asked if the declarations meant they had to close, and so we provided them with the language straight out of the declaration, and if they wanted a copy, we would email it to them,” she added.

The call center received only four calls on the day it opened, but that number jumped to 31 calls on March 19 and 41 calls on March 20. The call volume dropped to 13 on March 23, but rocketed to 102 calls on March 24. On March 25, the call center fielded 44 calls.

She added the number of calls does not include those the city receives through its 9-1-1 dispatch center or through its Facebook page.

Not all of the questions asked by callers can be answered right away, Meza said.

“What we do in those cases, is we asked them for a name and a contact number that we can call them back on, and then we research their question and try to give them a call back at the end of the day. We try to respond as soon as we have an answer, but sometimes the answer takes a little longer to get, and if it takes us longer than an hour, we call them back to let them know we’re still working on it, so they know we didn’t forget about them,” Meza said.

“We’re basically a hub of information, and we distribute that information to people,” she added.

Meza said she believes the call center is a valuable tool for the community.

“There’s a lot of misinformation or misunderstanding out there, and we’re able to provide the documents or correct information to them, and I think that’s important. Everyone here at the city has been helpful and supportive,” she said.

“The city manager has as his motto ‘progress, customer service and teamwork,’ and I really think that everyone that’s been here has really demonstrated all of those core values,” she added.

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