Daniel Waldeck is on the team that works the phones at Wood River Health Services. 

“We’re really the epicenter of everything coming in and out of the facility,” Waldeck said.

Usually, the job is fairly predictable: book appointments, refill prescriptions, track down test results. But Waldeck says this week has been far from usual. More calls, more nervous patients.

“The past few days, it’s been a lot more of a high tense situation,” he said. “A lot of people are scared and don’t really have the full knowledge of what to do for themselves.”

He does his best to answer each person’s questions, and when he can’t, he helps put them in touch with Department of Health resources or someone on the medical staff at Wood River. 

“We try to speak with a nurse or provider if they’re available at the time to speak with the patient to kind of give them the information they need in order to guide them where they need to go for it,” Waldeck said.

“People just want reassurances,” said Waldeck’s manager, Jessica Joseph.

She said patients aren’t always afraid they have coronavirus. Sometimes they’re seeing inaccurate information being shared on social media, and they need to hear from professionals who can help them protect themselves.

“What they should do regarding quarantine,” Joseph said, for example. “The volume they’re getting isn’t necessarily everyone’s calling because they think they may have it. But they’re having questions of even what they should be looking for.”

Many people are calling to cancel appointments because they’re stuck at home with kids who are out of school, or they’d prefer to remain inside as COVID-19 spreads. Visits to the health clinic are definitely down, Joseph said, but they’re still seeing patients who come in because of chronic illnesses or who are sick but aren’t potential COVID-19 cases. But those people are in the minority.

“A lot more than not are erring on the side they’d rather postpone till further notice,” she said.

Like other community health centers, Wood River is operating under new guidelines from the Rhode Island Department of Health. Staff are calling ahead to confirm appointments and screen patients. 

People who have certain flu-like symptoms are told to stay home and wait for a telemedicine follow-up. Some are referred to a nurse. 

Signs at the entrance tell people with symptoms to return to their cars and call Wood River instead. When someone goes to the front desk anyway, they’re given a mask and told to sit in the waiting room, where chairs are now spaced six feet apart. No walk-ins are being accepted. 

Wood River President and CEO Alison Croke says the Department of Health Guidelines are evolving regularly. 

“For example,” Croke said, “in our screenings, some of those questions that we are asking have changed. There’s less of a focus now on people’s travel, because, according to the Department of Health, we have what’s called community spread of the virus. We are focused much more on symptoms.” 

So far, there have been no suspected cases that required testing. 

For the staff, it’s busy, and it’s stressful. Daniel Waldeck said he’s managing the situation by making sure he gets all the sleep he needs. He also likes to watch TV. 

“Once you answer a lot of phone calls in a day, your brain is mushed,” Waldeck said. “I find pointless television to be a really easy thing to go home and turn on and just decompress that way. Nothing too serious, because obviously everything going on in the world is very serious right now.”

He said his go-to show right now is a well-known comedy set in Rhode Island: Family Guy.