PORTLAND, Ore — If you’re fighting a cough or fever and are worried it may be a symptom of the new coronavirus, your first instinct might be to rush to the doctor. Soon, Oregon Health & Science University will have a COVID-19 hotline that doctors hope will help people to figure out what’s going on before they leave their homes -- and reduce the burden on health care workers. 

A $1.6 million donation will help launch the COVID-19 hotline, by covering the costs of dedicated phone lines and computers, as well as training for hotline staff, OHSU spokeswoman Amanda Gibbs said. The donation came from the Andrew and Corey Morris-Singer Foundation.

Gibbs said patients who call the hospital will have the option to be routed directly to the new hotline. The hotline will be staffed by medical professionals including doctors, registered nurses, public health educators and community health workers, who will all triage the concerns of callers who think they may be sick with the virus.

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Gibbs said hospital administrators don’t yet know exactly when the service will start, but said it will eventually be made available to most of OHSU’s clinics for at least the next three months. She said in addition to answering calls, OHSU is looking into extending the service to text and email.

She said the hospital can’t track the number of COVID-related phone calls it receives daily. However, she said 1,200 of all OHSU outpatient visits Wednesday were virtual visits.

“Oregon’s primary care system does not currently have the capacity to answer the calls that are expected to come in over the next two to three months efficiently and effectively,” Gibbs told The Oregonian/OregonLive in an email. “The hotline and telemedicine service will also help prevent OHSU’s primary care system from becoming overwhelmed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and will help prevent primary care clinics, urgent care and emergency departments from becoming overcrowded with patients who could more appropriately be treated with telemedicine services.”

—Jayati Ramakrishnan; 503-221-4320; jramakrishnan@oregonian.com; @JRamakrishnanOR

This article was originally published by The Oregonian/OregonLive, one of more than a dozen news organizations throughout the state sharing their coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak to help inform Oregonians about this evolving health issue.

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