As D.C. leaders work to limit the spread of COVID-19, they're relying on the public as an important source for information. The District has been getting an extra 700 to 1,000 calls each day on its 311 line and the callers aren't just seeking information — hundreds are reporting their neighbors who aren't following the pandemic rules.
"The community is our eyes and ears and having them have a route to call in and report this is very key," said Director Karima Holmes, who oversees the District's 311 and 911 centers.
The News4 I-Team found at least 325 coronavirus-related calls in just the first three weeks since the District launched special codes to track mass gathering violations.
Investigations by the News4 I-Team
Coronavirus-Related 311 Calls in DC
311 calls made from 3/26/20 - 4/16/20 either due to large gatherings or requests for quarantine-related resources and service.
Source: DC 311
Credit: Anisa Holmes/NBC Washington
Large crowds are reported to the police department for immediate response. Complaints regarding businesses that are failing to enforce social distancing are sent to the District's Department of Community and Regulatory Affairs.
"They can't cover every block or every square mile of the city," said Deputy Mayor Kevin Donahue, who oversees public safety.
Donahue says the calls from the public help District agencies know how and where to best focus their resources. For example, he says there have only been a handful of reports of non-essential businesses remaining open.
"I think businesses want to do the right thing, and we're seeing really broad compliance with that," Donahue said.
Holmes said nearly 4,000 people call the 311 line on a busy day, and her call-takers have risen to the occasion with professionalism.
"These calls are a little different. People are panicky. they're worried about their loved ones," she said. "I'm really proud of the team because we haven't seen an uptick in call-ins. The staffing is there."
She said call-takers have adjusted well to helping their neighbors through the pandemic. They've also made some physical adjustments in the center, since their work stations previously were only 3 feet apart.
"We split them up for social distancing," said Holmes, adding that the 25 call-takers on the day shift now work in 3 groups.
The center added an 18-wheeler in the parking which now houses part of the staff, so they can practice proper social distancing while taking calls about the District residents who are not.
311 is also connecting some callers who are seeking information about COVID-19 testing sites or who didn't get what they need from the recorded COVID-19 hotline. The call-takers are equipped with resources from the Department of Health.
"We're all in this together," said Holmes. "We live in this community and we want to make sure that it stays safe."