In another sign that COVID-19 is becoming a part of ordinary life, the Delaware Division of Public Health will close its COVID-19 call center and vaccine call center Tuesday because the number of calls has dwindled.
It’s one more indication that the state and the federal government are starting to consider how to handle the ebbing of the pandemic as the number of cases drop and vaccines help many avoid critical illness.
Gov. John Carney said Wednesday during a briefing about his 2024 budget proposal that the state already is considering how to handle the wind down of federal aid when a public health emergency order is lifted.
The state will need to focus on the dismantling of the expanded Medicaid program, which now is serving one-third of the state’s residents because of expanded eligibility rules.
Carney said the feds will remove funding faster than they will allow the state to remove people and will limit how fast the state can remove enrollees. That will mean Delaware will have to pick up a larger part of that expense.
The governor said the state also will have to consider how to help long-term care facilities, which received a lot of federal COVID-19 funds and used them to hire and retain workers.
Call center genesis
Public Health’s call centers provided critical advice and aid for state residents from 2020 to 2022 as the virus rampaged up and down the state and especially when the vaccines began to come out in winter 2020-2021.
“We started with multiple call center operators, even having to open a separate Vaccine Call Center when the vaccine program rolled out,” said Dr. Rick Hong, interim director of the Delaware Division of Public Health. “However, significantly lower call volume concerning COVID-19 as the pandemic wanes and evolves is allowing us to re-allocate personnel to other critical health work. Most people are accessing information through the web.”
The COVID-19 call center was launched on March 4, 2020, to help Public Health cope with an avalanche of calls about the novel coronavirus.
At the time of launch, Delaware had no cases of coronavirus cases.
The call center provided critical information to schools, medical providers, state agencies and community organizations. A second call center was opened on Dec. 19, 2020, to field questions about COVID-19 vaccines.
“We remain dedicated to answering COVID-19 related questions through our email resource boxes, which will continue to be monitored,” Hong said in a press release. “We will also continue to communicate COVID-19 information to Delawareans using media and community partners, to encourage them to practice health safety by getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu, staying home when sick, and wearing a mask in public areas if they feel sick and must go out.”
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Public Health reported earlier in January that the number of post-holiday COVID-19 cases was dramatically lower this year than it had been last January.
The state saw 3,666 new cases reported on Jan. 6 with 759 hospitalizations on Jan. 12.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience.
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