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Phones for COVID-19 Testing Overwhelmed; Callers Stuck on Hold, Then Disconnected

Tried calling the new COVID-19 testing line on Cape Cod? Some callers looking to make an appointment for the public testing sites have gotten stuck on hold for 30 minutes or more, only to get disconnected.


Lori Jewett, chief operating officer at Cape Cod Healthcare, told CAI the volume of calls escalated rapidly over the course of the week, from about 160 a day to more than 600.



“That number is a wonderful number, because we want to test as many people as possible,” she said. “But in Week 1, it certainly was a little overwhelming.”


She said Cape Cod Healthcare started with only three people answering the line, but has added 12 more. It also reduced the duration of each call — by placing some of the registration tasks outside the call — and used a menu to separate callers onto different lines.


On Thursday, a CAI reporter called the appointment line, sat on hold for 41 minutes, and then got cut off.


The phone menu doesn’t give an option for people seeking testing because they are concerned about community exposure — one of the main groups the testing was advertised to serve.


The menu only gives options for people who are symptomatic, traveling, or have been exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case.


“Well, that's good feedback,” Jewett said. “You know, we tried to be clear when we separated it into those three, but certainly we could expand it to a fourth option.”


Hundreds of people have already been tested at the two publicly supported testing sites at the Cape Cod Melody Tent and Cape Cod Fairgrounds.


Peter Burke, the Hyannis fire chief, said the Melody Tent tested about 150 people on Wednesday alone.


Getting people scheduled for appointments has been the challenge, he said, “which I think speaks to demand.”


“It’s a good thing that we're doing it,” he said of the community testing.


Publicly supported asymptomatic testing is expected to come to the Lower and Outer Cape next week.


Patricia Nadle, CEO of Outer Cape Health Services, said appointments should start mid week and will be offered in Harwich Port, Provincetown, and Wellfleet. Those seeking testing should call the center directly.


She said rapid antigen testing at Outer Cape Health Services will be free until Jan.10, using tests provided by the state. The center also has PCR tests as a backup to confirm positive results.


Asymptomatic PCR testing at all of the sites costs $75 for the general public and $110 for people getting tested for travel purposes. Free testing will be provided for those who are unable to pay.


For people who have symptoms, the testing is covered by most insurance plans.


The cost of testing had been reduced from market rate with funding from multiple sources, including the supplemental state budget, Barnstable County, and Cape Cod Healthcare.