TWIN FALLS, Idaho — The South Central Public Health District set up a hotline at the beginning of the pandemic, taking nearly 100 calls a day in the early stages. Now, they answer about twenty.
The majority of the phone calls and questions they receive deal with general information about COVID. However, the hotline has experienced its fair share of concerns or questions that don't fall under its jurisdiction.
The district has received phone calls where residents ask about their health, well being, and even potential treatments for whatever they may be experiencing. In these circumstances, the hotline will typically refer concerned citizens towards their primary health care provider.
"We focus on community health in general. Not on the individual's health. We are not doctors. We have doctors that we work with, but we are not doctors ourselves so we cannot write prescriptions, we cannot give you medical advice, we cannot give you healthcare evaluations," says Brianna Bodily, SCPDH Public Information Officer.
The hotline is also reporting a trend where people call in about the district testing them or asking when they'll receive test results. SCPHD doesn't provide tests to residents and doesn't know when people should expect results. To find out, members of the community will have to contact whatever facility or establishment they went to for the test.
While the district does not conduct its own testing, operators on the hotline will do their best to steer people towards testing facilities. Once notified of where they can go, residents are encouraged to do some of their own research on that specific site. "They all have their various requirements, but reaching out to them to find out their testing policy or at least checking them out on their website is a really good place to find out a little more information about where you might be able to go," said Bodily.
The hotline's overall mission is to provide residents with general COVID information like symptoms, if one should self-isolate, and the most recent data for your area, specifically risk levels.
Bodily said, "We can give you information so that you can make the best next move. That means that we can provide you with guidance, CDC guidance, our own guidance, or guidance from the State Health Department's."
While the hotline sets out to give data about risk levels and COVID numbers in areas, it cannot release any personal information. On multiple occasions, the district has received calls from members of the public asking if a specific person has COVID or if anyone on their block has COVID. This type of information can legally not be distributed to residents.
The hotline also provides a service where people can call and give information to help the district respond to COVID. While many of the calls received are about potential outbreaks, other sorts of concerns have come in that the District has no control over.
Residents from both Twin Falls and neighboring communities have called in expressing their concern over what other health districts have been doing. Calls have come with varying opinions recommending SCPHD should do something different, or another health district should follow the guidelines that SCPHD has posted.
All health districts work independently and based on size, resources, and demographics, they ultimately make their own decision and do what they feel is best for the communities they cover.
The South Central Public Health District does still encourage people to call with any questions they may have, but they want residents to be aware that not all information will be available and they may be redirected to the proper resources if they cannot provide what is needed.
The hotline is available Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm and can be reached at 208-737-1138 for English speakers and 208-737-5965 for Spanish speakers.