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Block Club’s Free Coronavirus Hotline Closes After Nearly 3 Years Of Helping Chicagoans

Our free, bilingual hotline helped more than 1,000 Chicagoans and people across the country when they needed help most.

Middle left photo by Mateo Zapata; All other photos by Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — The Block Club Chicago coronavirus hotline has closed after nearly three years of serving the city.

We launched our free, bilingual COVID-19 hotline in 2020 to connect Chicagoans to the resources they needed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when our neighbors were scared and confused. After reviewing the current need amongst Chicagoans, the state of the pandemic and the decline in neighbors’ use of the hotline, we’ve decided to close the resource for now.

When we launched our hotline, we set out with the mindset that a single person helped meant the whole project was worthwhile. Our team wrote thousands of stories about coronavirus, live-tweeted most every coronavirus press conference and provided up-to-the-minute updates via our daily coronavirus newsletter, and we wanted to tap that knowledge to answer questions on symptoms, city rules and how and where to access testing, vaccinations, housing aid, unemployment, benefits, free food and other resources for those out of work. 

For more than two and a half years, Chicagoans could call, text or email our hotline 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and receive help in English and Spanish.

In that time, we answered 1,024 questions — helping Chicagoans all across the city, from Rogers Park to Roseland. Since its launch, we answered everything from testing options and vaccine appointments to exposure guidance and housing resources. Dozens of questions were fielded in Spanish, and we even connected folks from more than 20 other states and countries with information they needed throughout the process.

On our busiest day, we answered an astonishing 65 questions. Questions even helped guide our reporting during the crisis.

Block Club was named the Institute of Nonprofit News’ Community Champion of the Year for our hotline and was a finalist for the Local Independent Online News Publisher’s Best Solutions Project of the Year in 2021. The American Press Institute, NBC and Medill Local News Initiative also spread the word about our service-journalism work.

Fear not: Our staff will continue to use the infrastructure we created and the lessons we learned through the hotline to fuel our reporting across the city. And — should a need arise on which we are well-equipped to assist — we will reopen a hotline to help serve Chicagoans in the future.

In no way does this mean we think COVID-19 is gone from our lives. Our staff will continue our COVID-19 reporting and carry on connecting neighbors with any information they may need.

Block Club strives to inform our neighbors, build connections and shed light on important issues in our communities. We saw the coronavirus hotline as an extension of that mission, and we’re proud of the work we did over the past three years. Looking ahead, we’re excited to continue to serve our city and meet our neighbors where they need us — day in and day out.

Did you use the coronavirus hotline? Let us know your thoughts.

Have ideas on how the Block Club staff can continue to serve our communities? Let us know! Email or fill out this quick survey.

Have coronavirus questions? Here are some resources we recommend: 

  • If you’re having an emergency: call 9-1-1.
  • If you have a medical question: we recommend calling a medical provider.
  • If you have a legal question: contact a legal expert.
  • If you’re looking for a vaccine:
  • If you are looking for a testing site: The Chicago Department of Public Health previously recommended calling your doctor first to see if they can provide a test or recommend a testing site for you. If that’s not an option for you, the following resources may help. You should contact locations to confirm testing, requirements and payment information:
  • For other questions about COVID-19: we recommend visiting the CDC website, calling a medical provider or contacting the Illinois Department of Public Health coronavirus hotline at 1-800-889-3931.

The Block Club coronavirus hotline was staffed by newsletter and hotline manager Hannah Boufford and hotline specialists Hillary Flores and María Marta Guzmán. Kelly Bauer, Block Club’s lead editor on coronavirus coverage, lent her expertise to the hotline. Block Club co-founder and executive editor Stephanie Lulay led the team’s creation and oversaw its operation. Block Club reporters also had a hand in answering neighborhood-specific questions.

Block Club’s coronavirus hotline was inspired by the coronavirus hotline launched by KPCC, Southern California’s public radio station, and was made possible by a Facebook Journalism Project grant. Hearken consulted on the project. Thank you to everyone who helped make important public health information accessible to Chicagoans.

To support more of Block Club’s community-focused work, donate here.

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