BARNEGAT, NJ – For the last fifteen years, Barnegat resident Kelly Garcia has made it her mission to act as the voice of calm and reassurance. Although no one realizes they’re reaching her at home, Garcia handles after-hours calls for the Ocean County Health Department, numerous medical providers, and laboratories. Essentially, she’s a remote operator for a multi-faceted call center.

“This is a very serious situation,” stressed Garcia. “Prior to people worrying about the coronavirus, I took in about seven to eight calls per hour.  Now, I’d say I easily speak to 40-50 people per hour.”

Garcia hears the panic in their voices. People phone in about their older mothers and fathers. Parents attempting to reach pediatricians call non-stop. Many are worried that their children are infected and need direction.

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“We also handle calls for New York labs and doctors,” Garcia said. “I took one call where thirty COVID-19 tests came back positive. The bad news keeps pouring in from all sides.”

In some cases, people call in to learn about testing. Some admit that they aren’t yet symptomatic and are concerned because they’ve been exposed.  They feel helpless and are scared. And, of course, that includes the healthcare workers.

“I feel that people who are out there in the field should be tested right away,” admitted Garcia. “They’re out there doing something good and are worried they might bring the infection home to their families.”

Meanwhile, it’s not Garcia’s job to make any type of referrals. She takes down the information and passes it on to the person delegated to provide responses. Garcia notes that being part of an emergency call center really puts things in perspective.

When patients learn they have positive test results, Garcia is often the person on the other end of the phone when they call their doctor. Some of the patients don’t sound as bad as others. Others tremble as they speak, and Garcia senses they are not only very ill – but also afraid.

“People need to take this very seriously,” repeated Garcia. “They need to stay home and avoid contact.  We need this to end.”