CHICAGO — Some people trying to call the city’s coronavirus hotline are instead reaching Owen Worley.
And if you don’t know who Worley is, that’s understandable — he has no ties at all to the city health department or the hotline.
The city set up a coronavirus hotline at 312-746-4835 last year to answer people’s questions and provide them with resources for things like testing and quarantining. More recently, people can call the hotline to set up vaccination appointments at the United Center.
But several people calling the number Wednesday morning were instead forwarded to Worley, an East Garfield Park resident with no ties to the hotline. At least 26 people trying to call the hotline had instead been forwarded to Worley as of noon.
Worley provided screenshots of his phone’s call log showing how the calls coming to him are coming from the city’s hotline. His number does not at all resemble the hotline phone number.
And Worley’s not the only one getting the calls forwarded to him — when he called the hotline to report the issue, he was forwarded to another everyday resident who had no idea why the hotline had sent Worley to him. Worley had to explain the situation to that caller.
“Presumably those people would like to get through to the hotline, so [it’s] not great from that perspective,” Worley said. “If my experience is typical, then there could be hundreds, maybe thousands, of people getting these calls.”
The Health Department learned of the issue after being contacted by Block Club. Its spokespeople said they are trying to fix the issue.
The hotline’s call takers were not forwarding the calls, a Health Departmant spokesperson said — instead, it appears the calls were being forwarded to Worley and others before they even got to the hotline “due to a technical glitch.”
“We will continue to monitor this and hope to have it resolved shortly,” the spokesperson said. “In the meantime, we have reached out to the individual directly and apologized for any inconvenience this has caused him.”
Worley got the first calls early Wednesday and ignored them at first because, as he said, most calls are scams. At some point, he picked up and spoke to a person, but he assumed the person who asked him for information was participating in an “odd scam.”
“But then I got a few more, and after getting a few of them and them clearly being different people, my next thought was maybe my number was fairly close to the COVID hotline,” Worley said.
But Worley’s number does not at all resemble the hotline phone number, and he realized the callers were being forwarded to him from the hotline itself.
Worley called the city’s hotline — but got forwarded himself to a young person who doesn’t work at the hotline and who was also “pretty confused” about the call, he said.
Worley had to put his phone on Do Not Disturb mode. At least 26 calls had come in before then.
“It’s been fine for me,” Worley said. “I’m sure for the people calling it’s not so great. … It was interesting enough to notice this was happening, and that made up for any inconvenience on my part.”
At the beginning of the vaccination effort, many Chicagoans expressed frustration over not being able to find a vaccination appointment due to the low supply of doses.
But even though more doses are now coming to the city, confusion and frustration have grown. Dozens of people have contacted Block Club with questions about who is eligible, how they can get vaccinated or when they’ll be able to sign up for a vaccine appointment. The city and state have different vaccine eligibility rules, adding to the confusion.
Officials hoped the mass vaccination site at the United Center, which opened Tuesday, would ease some people’s concerns. But eligibility requirements for that site were changed at the last minute Sunday, and technical glitches irritated many people as they tried to make appointments online over the weekend. Officials have also given different answers when asked how many people have been able to sign up at the United Center and how many doses will be administered there.
More than 655,000 doses of vaccine have been administered to Chicagoans.
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