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Health Link, Edmonton police 911 experience high call volumes amid coronavirus pandemic

Long wait times or no answer for Health Link callers

Alberta Health Services Health Link advice service phone line has experienced high call volume for days amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, and now Edmonton police say “inappropriate” calls to 911 are tying up their lines as well.

“Please remember 911 is for emergencies where life, safety, or property is in immediate danger or there is a crime in progress,” Edmonton police said Thursday afternoon while re-tweeting AHS.

Police chief Dale McFee said the calls are coming from people frustrated that they can’t get through to Health Link.

“It’s important to send the message that we’ve just got to be patient. 911 is for emergency — that’s for people at risk, that something sensational or something bad is going to happen and I think we’ve got to make sure we differentiate with this,” he said Thursday afternoon.

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McFee acknowledged people are fearful and panicked because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, but added it’s important to keep 911 free for emergencies.

“It’s just to make sure that we’re not missing the real calls to 911 when something tragic has happened and we need to get there right away. It’s important we use it for what it was designed to be used for,” he said.

“911 is not the number to call to get tested for the virus.”

READ MORE: Yes, you should have a coronavirus emergency kit. Here’s what to include

The health authority, meanwhile, said it has received an influx of calls since the first coronavirus cases in Alberta were announced last week.

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Health Link 811 continues to experience very high volume due to individuals seeking advice on #COVID19,” AHS said in a tweet. “We are training additional clinical staff and they are continuing to come on board to provide dedicated additional COVID support. Thank you for your patience.”

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The service said earlier this week it was experiencing high wait times between the hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Albertans who think they may have COVID-19 are being urged not to go to the emergency room or urgent care centres.

READ MORE: Health Link, assessment centres, provincial labs: A look at how Alberta is preparing for the coronavirus

Anyone who is returning to Alberta from outside the country is being asked to self-monitor for flu-like symptoms, and if they begin to experience any, they are asked to self-isolate and call Health Link for further guidance.

A nurse will run through an assessment of symptoms and travel history. In-home testing by community paramedics or public health nurses may be available, depending on which zone the individual is in. They may also be referred to an assessment centre, which have been opened in Edmonton and Calgary due to high demand for virus testing.

AHS said people can help the call volumes by considering visiting the province’s COVID-19 website for info, if they do not need a health assessment over the phone from a nurse.

Alberta coronavirus: How long does it take to get test results back?
Alberta coronavirus: How long does it take to get test results back?

The new coronavirus was first identified in Hubei province, China, in December 2019 and spread rapidly. While the outbreak has begun to level off in China, it seems the virus has found a foothold in a number of countries around the world, and it continues to spread.

Confused about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians, but they caution against travel to affected areas (a list can be found here). If you do travel to these places, they recommend you self-monitor to see whether you develop symptoms and if you do, to contact public health authorities.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing – very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.