Spectrum Health fielded more than 4,000 calls to its free COVID-19 screening hotline in just 72 hours.

More than 100 medical providers are answering questions 24/7 about symptoms and making referrals for specimen collection when needed.

If you are in the state of Michigan and experiencing symptoms of the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, you are encouraged to call the free hotline at 833.559.0659.

The patients calling the Spectrum Health Now hotline express a wide range of concerns, said Kristi Artz, MD, an emergency medicine specialist and the medical director of virtual health at Spectrum Health.

“I think a lot of people have a real legitimate concern because maybe they recently traveled or are currently experiencing respiratory symptoms,” she said.

“Some are very much looking for reassurance. Others are really trying to understand if they need to proceed with testing.”

Some wonder if they need to begin home quarantine. Would it be OK to leave their homes after symptoms go away, or should they remain in quarantine for 14 days?

How it works

When someone calls the hotline, a Spectrum Health employee takes the call and books the person for the next available time slot with a provider. The providers include physicians and advanced practice providers, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

The provider calls the patient and asks about respiratory symptoms, such as fever, cough, body aches and sore throat.

“We try to understand their exposure risk—if they have been exposed to anyone known to test positive for COVID-19,” Dr. Artz said.

Following that, the provider asks about travel to high-risk areas.

To determine if the patient requires testing, Spectrum Health is following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If we think you require testing, we will tell you at that time,” she said.

If so, the patient will receive a phone call with instructions on when and where to go for the specimen collection.

“They are instructed to stay at home and initiate quarantine,” Dr. Artz added. “They should not proceed anywhere until they hear from us as to where they should go for testing.”

She advises patients to stay aware of updates from the CDC travel advisories—to see changes in travel areas deemed to be high risk.

“If they are added to a high-risk group, they can call in to be re-screened because they may meet the criteria for testing,” she said.

Spectrum Health is making daily updates to its screening process, based on changes in CDC guidelines, she added. Currently, people must go through the hotline screening first in order to have specimens collected for testing.

Spectrum Health has drive-through specimen collection sites for those pre-screened people who have been instructed to get tested. Only those who have been asked to go to the drive-through locations will have specimens collected.

Please note the screening is not a COVID-19 test. It is a first step in identifying people who may be at high-risk and may need to be tested.

Patients with severe or life-threatening symptoms—such as severe shortness of breath—should call 911 first, before seeking emergency care.

But for others, Dr. Artz strongly advises a telehealth visit—rather than a visit to an open clinical space such as an urgent care clinic or emergency department. This can help protect high-risk individuals and help in managing health care resources.

“We know the virus is shed by secretions—from coughs and sneezes— that can live on surfaces for a number of hours,” she said. “With good hand-washing and sanitation, the virus can be eliminated from surfaces, but it does appear to be quite easily spread.”