News & Politics

DC’s Covid-19 Hotline Is Not Open on Nights or Weekends

The "human needs referral service center" operates more like a switchboard.

close up employee man hand touching handset of telephone on desk for contact customer or receiving call , hotline concept

Glen’s Garden Market owner Danielle Vogel learned that two of her grocery store employees tested positive for Covid-19 on a recent Saturday night. Concerned about next steps and getting staff tested as soon as possible on a busy shopping weekend, she called the DC Covid-19 Hotline. A pre-recorded message clicked on: “Please call back during normal business hours, Monday through Friday, 7 AM to 7 PM.” 

After going to the DC Coronavirus website, Vogel says she dug up information for two public testing sites but learned they were also only open on certain weekdays with limited hours.

“This representation by the mayor that grocery store employees can easily get tested is inaccurate,” says Vogel, citing a statement by Mayor Muriel Bowser that tests will be widely available to grocery workers. Vogel, who maintains strict safety measures at her store, including limiting capacity to five shoppers at a time, ended up taking her team to a clinic in Maryland for tests—all negative—after failing to make progress in DC. “I spent a bit of time on the DC coronavirus website. I’m a lawyer for Godsakes—if I can’t figure this out, good luck.”

The DC Department of Health says there are no plans to extend the hours of the “Covid human needs referral service center,” as it’s also called, to accommodate weekend or late-night inquiries (though there are emergency contacts such as a line for residents who’ve been ordered to quarantine by a medical professional). The hotline operates more like a switchboard where personnel direct your call—or refer you to department websites in a multitude of languages—for inquiries about how to obtain social service and unemployment benefits, food, health services, support for children and seniors, and more.

So no, not as helpful at the Butterball Hotline—which, for the record, is open 24/7.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.