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February 8, 2021

County COVID-19 call center off to quick start

Photos/Don Del Rosso
Call center representative Tristan Chavez on Friday made vaccine appointments for an elderly couple who had checked repeatedly on the status of their registrations.
Established Jan. 29, the call center has two five-member teams of representatives.
It’s very rewarding to be able — even in a small way — to assist in helping put an end to what we’ve been dealing with almost a year. I just feel bolstered almost.
— Dawn Pleet, call center team leader
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
For about week, the elderly Warrenton couple phoned the Fauquier County COVID-19 call center daily to learn when they could schedule vaccinations against the deadly virus.

“They’re really excited” at the prospect of getting the shots, said call center representative Tristan Chavez, who patiently has shepherded them along the way.

Their waiting and uncertainly ended Friday, when Mr. Chavez notified the couple that he could schedule them for this week’s vaccination clinic.

Beginning at 3 p.m. Feb. 5, he and his call center colleagues started to contact 325 mostly Fauquier and Rappahannock residents who had registered to get shots to combat the novel coronavirus.

Vaccinations will be administered at an appointment-only clinic that will open Thursday, Feb. 11, in a vacant space adjacent to the Home Goods store in the Warrenton Village Center along West Lee Highway.

Working from a Virginia Department of Health list, two five-member call center teams had scheduled 33 people for shots in about three hours Friday.

Mr. Chavez couldn’t wait to deliver the good news to the Warrenton couple, both older than 75.

“Are you sitting down?” he asked the woman who answered the phone Friday afternoon. “It’s a good day for you.”

For the next several minutes, Mr. Chavez, 22, spoke separately with the woman and her husband to confirm all sorts of personal and health-related questions, before locking in their vaccination appointments.

“I know you guys probably want to be scheduled together,” he told them. “So, I have appointments from 10:05 till 3:25 in five-minute intervals.”

Mr. Chavez briefly paused to listen.

“OK,” he said. “Two o’clock. So you should be receiving an email confirmation stating the date, time and location of the vaccine.”

But not so fast. The couple wanted somehow to reward Mr. Chavez for his service.

The young man listened some more and laughed.

“No,” he told the couple. “I don’t need any money or gift card. . . . The biggest gift is just hearing how happy you guys are to be scheduled — honestly.”

Could they at least come to the call center to meet him?

“If you would really like to come and say thank-you to me, that would be a wonderful gift,” Mr. Chavez conceded.

Operating 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays from the Warrenton Community Center, the call center representatives help people without computer access and others register for the vaccine and schedule appointments to get their shots.

As of Thursday, the temporary call center staff had taken 934 calls since its Jan. 29 opening. They also made 370 follow-up calls in their first week.

“The resource we’re trying to provide is to point them in the right direction and assist them if they do have any difficulties,” Team Leader Dawn Pleet said.

Caller questions range far and wide, according to Ms. Pleet.

The No. 1 request deals with “status updates” on callers’ registrations and when they can get appointments, the Prince William County resident said.

Others seek help registering because they lack computer access or email, Ms. Pleet said.

“Some of their primary contact is still the telephone,” she added. “And in a lot of those situations, they’re having family members call, and that person will be the point of contact.”

Occasionally, callers express displeasure with the registration process.

“You get maybe that one out of probably 50 . . . who’s upset with the system,” said Mr. Chavez, who lives in Orange County.

But otherwise, people appreciate the call center staff’s efforts, according to Mr. Chavez and his colleagues.

“It’s really a relief to everybody when they get a call, because they’re just so anxious,” said Karen Montanez, 46, who lives near Warrenton.

Ms. Pleet agreed.

“They want to get out of their homes, and this is the first step in getting back to a little bit of normalcy,” she said.

Callers also marvel that they get a chance to talk with a “real person” versus a recorded menu of instructions, said Loudoun County resident Liv Renaud, 58.

“There’s so much conflicting information out there,” Ms. Renaud said “The wonderful thing about this process — I get this response a lot — is: ‘Oh my goodness, I’m speaking to a real person! Are you a real person?’ ‘Yes, I’m a real person’.”

Ms. Pleet described the work as particularly satisfying because it serves a high purpose.

“It’s very rewarding to be able — even in a small way — to assist in helping put an end to what we’ve been dealing with almost a year. I just feel bolstered almost.”

All 10 call center representatives, who received two days of training, had applied for other county government jobs but got recruited to staff the COVID-19 help line.

“We called applicants who had prior customer service, front desk, call center and/ or administrative duties,” county Human Resources Director Janelle Downes said.

Team leaders earn $20 per hour and regular members $15 per hour.

Fauquier has allocated $170,000 in a CARES Act money to fund the call center and the vaccine clinics, Ms. Downes said.

Resulting from a joint effort of the Town of Warrenton, the Virginia Department of Health and the county, the call center will operate for about three months, the human resources director said.

The first doses of vaccine — for front-line healthcare workers — reached Fauquier in mid-December. Virginia since has expanded eligibility to everyone 65 and older, along with younger people who have medical conditions.

As of Monday morning, the doses administered so far in Fauquier totaled 7,949, and the number of people completing the two-shot regimen rose to 1,355.

But, the vaccine supply remains limited and it will take months for some of those who have signed up to get their first appointments, health department officials said.

The center can be reached at 540-422-0111 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Contact Don Del Rosso at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-0300.
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