New Jersey’s Coronavirus Hotline - hosted by the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System (NJPIES) also known as the New Jersey Poison Control Center – was opened in late January with center staff working around the clock to provide credible information on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), up-to-date guidance for ill persons and the worried well, and best-practices for prevention to concerned New Jerseyans.

Since its inception, the Coronavirus Hotline has assisted over 25,000 New Jersey callers, with an unprecedented surge in call volume as the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded across the state.

To meet the growing demand for qualified individuals to staff the hotline, NJPIES - which is part of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School - recruited and trained volunteers from throughout Rutgers, including the Rutgers School of Public Health, the state’s only accredited graduate school of public health, whose students were among the first to volunteer.

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“To ensure the Coronavirus Hotline stays accessible to the public during the current surge, we implemented a contingency plan which enables us to continue our mission of providing medical advice and assistance 24/7 — expanded our available phone lines, put remote teleworker status into effect to allow additional staff on the phones, and deployed a multidisciplinary team of Rutgers graduate student and faculty volunteers,” said Diane Calello, MD, executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center.

Rutgers School of Public Health students undergo on-the-job training regarding the various health consequences and concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic, including testing logistics, procedures for safe isolation and quarantine, and accessing need-based services throughout the state. Students then work the hotline under the direct supervision of NJPIES’ healthcare professionals.

“The partnership between the Poison Control Center and schools throughout Rutgers, including the School of Public Health, illustrates the power of university-wide collaboration in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lewis Nelson, MD, chairman of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

Leaders from across the country are calling for an expanded public health workforce that is equipped with skills - like contact tracing - in order to begin returning the country back to normalcy. Rutgers School of Public Health students are meeting the demand by training to become their generation’s agile public health leaders, scholars, and practitioners, who are guided by the principles of health equity and social justice.

“The pandemic has highlighted – what we as public and health professionals have known for generations - the importance of a strong public health infrastructure to keep our communities safe,” said Perry N. Halkitis, PhD, MS, MPH, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health. “Through the Coronavirus Hotline, Rutgers School of Public Health students are applying the skills they have learned in the classroom to protect the health of New Jersyans during this public health crisis,” he added.

The hotline’s staff, medical and public health professionals, are on the frontlines of COVID-19 crisis as a medical resource for the almost 9 million New Jersey residents. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer the public’s growing coronavirus concerns as New Jersey continues to work towards flattening the curve of COVID-19 infections.  

“My peers and I are grateful to be able to do what we can to help, especially for those who call the hotline with questions about themselves or their loved ones who may be ill,” said Dana Neigel, a graduate epidemiology student at the Rutgers School of Public Health. “Keeping up with the quickly changing facts and information is a challenge, but by doing so we are able to provide credible information to keep callers informed and comforted to the best of our abilities.”

If you are a New Jersey resident looking for information on COVID-19, there are three options available 24/7 — Call 2-1-1 (non-medical); Call 1-800-962-1253 (medical/the NJ Poison Control Center); or Text: NJCOVID to 898-211.

If someone is unconscious, not breathing, hard to wake up, or having a seizure, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Media contacts only: Michelle Edelstein (mse46@sph.rutgers.edu) of the Rutgers School of Public Health and Alicia Gambino (gambinaa@njms.rutgers.edu) of New Jersey Poison Information and Education System (NJPIES)