Mayor mans 311 phone line to emphasize info on coronavirus for callers

Photo by Todd Maisel

There are 265 agents taking calls at the 311 center in Manhattan, but for a few minutes Wednesday, there was one more — Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took a call and listened to two others to emphasize that the public has an outlet for guidance on coronavirus.

The 311 center on Maiden Lane in Lower Manhattan received more than 2,200 calls just yesterday concerning the coronavirus, with people asking about symptoms, health care providers and how and when to be tested. Many of those calls come from people who are asymptomatic, some of whom were people who had traveled to other countries in the last month or two.

Last week, the mayor said they were averaging only 800 calls a day for coronavirus to the 17-year-old 311 call center.

The mayor fielded one such call from a woman who had visited Italy, where nearly 700 people have already died from the virus and thousands more are confirmed to have it.

“You did the right thing by calling for some guidance — I appreciate that,” de Blasio said to his caller. “Everyone is concerned and it is much better to seek information and seek support than to keep it to yourself. If you have any symptoms at any moment, at that time adjust your approach, such as don’t go to work, don’t be in contact with other folks and then immediately contact your doctor. And do all the basics.”

He told her to be “sensitive to any changes”  and seek medical assistance if feeling ill.

“This caller did everything right from my perspective,” de Blasio said as he cleaned the phone receiver with a sanitized hand wipe. “The caller did everything you would exactly want. She returned from travel, no symptoms now or in recent days, has health care provider if need be, she just wanted to know what to do after returning from travel — my kind of New Yorker who takes this situation very serious.”

He then listened to operator Tiffany Felix, a 3-year 311 agent, field two calls — one from a person who was seeking proper medical attention for “twitchy” lungs, who was then referred to the Health & Hospitals for guidance to arrange for a follow-up. The second caller said she goes to John Jay College at night, had general concerns as to what she should do.

“This is really important work you do — what we’ve said is that if New Yorkers need information and that’s what we want them to do,” de Blasio said. “Seventeen years, so many clear answers people need, biggest challenges we had, people needed info, get connected to health care who didn’t know where to go, don’t have insurance, don’t speak English, don’t have ability to get to health facility. The answer is to call 311 and get connected.  Every time they get you on the phone, they become a little calmer and a little clearer.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio addresses 311 phone agents. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

The mayor advised New Yorkers that it is “okay to take the subways,” but people should avoid overcrowded trains that are packed too tight, to avoid the possibility of community transmission. Tuesdsay, the mayor said bicycling to work was also a good way to go.

He again suggested that businesses should “stagger” work hours so that fewer people are traveling at the same time. The mayor said they are examining that possibility for municipal workers.

“We are getting consistent information on transmission that it is from bodily fluids, and we are finding the primary way to get coronavirus was being in close proximity and close quarters with others including with the family,” de Blasio said. He further advised people not to go to work if they have any of the symptom.

“Should you go to work if there are symptoms? No. If you have not been tested, it is best to hang back,” de Blasio said. “If you have been tested and you are negative, some doctors say you can go to work. But if you have symptoms and not been tested, get to a doctor and stay home for a few days and see what happens.”

As for public events, de Blasio said outdoor air is proven to be less chance of transmission than indoor events.

The mayor expressed concern that the coronavirus will have a seriously detrimental effect on the city’s economy, but also local businesses and individual livelihoods and so they are not seeking to close Madison Square Garden or Broadway “yet.”

“While health and safety first we must keep in mind that these businesses are people’s livelihoods,” he said. “We want to show that this city is still functioning, it’s just a matter of taking simple precautions and you will be safe if you play it smart.”

As for how bad the city will be hit by coronavirus, it is already clear from the severe drop in the Stock Market where most pension funds and the city are invested. The mayor said they expected a ‘big revenue hit” and they might have to make fiscal adjustments, but “we will never cut health care.”

This story first appeared on amny.com.

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