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A Retired Navy Captain Ran the City’s COVID Hotline for Six Months, and She’s Finally Getting a Rest

When Alexandria was hit with a once-in-a-century pandemic, the Health Department turned to a former U.S. Navy Captain to lead its call center.

Residents with questions related to coronavirus are welcomed to call Alexandria’s COVID-19 Hotline at 703.746.4988 during the week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. On the other end of the line will be Debra McGhee or one of the call center’s volunteers to give tips or direct you to city resources.

Now after six months, McGhee is stepping down as the call center supervisor. But don’t worry. She’ll still be volunteering, just not full-time.

“I’ve done six months and the call center is really established now,” McGhee told ALXnow. “We’ve got two shifts a day, five days a week. We’ve got some really good trained people in the call center that can handle the calls.”

McGhee, a 27-year Navy veteran who retired in 2009, became a volunteer years ago with the Fire Department and the Alexandria Medical Reserve Corps. She made one rule for herself after retiring — never to work full-time hours. She ended up breaking that rule to manage the call center.

“One of the most important things about responding to the pandemic is building trust with the community,” said Natalie Talis, a population health manager with the Alexandria Health Department. “Having Deborah lead the call center and making sure that it is a trusted, reliable resource for the community… has just meant so much in building trust and knowledge for the community.”

The call center receives upward of 50 calls on a busy day, and volunteers answer questions on where callers can get tested for the virus, next steps if they are feeling symptomatic and a host of information on city services and resources.

The beginning days in March and April were the hardest, McGhee said.

“I’m glad this opportunity presented itself so I can contribute,” McGhee said. “In the beginning, we didn’t know what the coronavirus was. The community was just a little bit on pins and needles, because it started at the beginning of allergy season and people were very concerned about their symptoms.”

McGhee said she will continue volunteering with the call center, since cold and flu season is around the corner.

Courtesy photo

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