Spike in calls to Sudbury 311 line due to COVID-19 pandemic

311 operators in Sudbury are dealing with a record number of calls — many of them related to COVID-19.

Late last month, the city started asking people to phone the 311 line with any complaints about non-compliance with COVID-19 guidelines. Concerns could include people not following self isolation orders, gatherings of more than five people, unauthorized use of city facilities, or non-essential businesses that continue to operate. 

“Originally I think residents weren’t sure where to reach out, because this is a completely new process,” said Renee Higgins, manager of 311 and customer service with the city. 

“Some were already calling 311, some were calling … the police, some were calling Public Health Sudbury. So we just kind of decided to make the whole process a lot easier for residents to navigate, by saying just call 311.”

More calls, more staff 

Between March 30 and April 15, operators answered about 11,000 calls — more than 4,000 of which were related to COVID-19. Higgins said actual complaints have made up a relatively small portion of the calls. 

“On a given day about 35 to 50 per cent of our calls are caused by COVID-19. But most of those are actually just inquiring about all the municipal service changes that we’ve recently made,” Higgins said.

Sudbury 311 manager Renee Higgins says calls are up amid COVID-19, though complaints make up fairly small portion of calls overall. (Sudmitted by Renee Higgins)

She said between those dates, there were about 350 complaints. More than 200 were about gatherings of more than five people, and about 120 complaints were about non-essential businesses continuing to operate. 

Four city staff have been redeployed to help answer the increased volume of calls. There are now 12 phone lines, up from eight. 311 operators triage the calls that come in, and complaints are passed on to by-law officers or city police, depending on the nature of the complaint. Higgins said all complaints are investigated. 

Low levels of non-compliance, says police chief 

In a police board meeting on Wednesday, Sudbury’s police chief, Paul Pedersen, said the police service has a dedicated education and enforcement team, “working both proactively and reactively” on COVID-19 concerns. He said the team is made up of a variety of officers, including those who usually work in schools. 

“[They’re] out on patrol, making sure that people are following the legislation, that there aren’t gatherings in parks and public places that go beyond the prescribed limits. Giving education and warning as required, responding to calls,” Pedersen said. 

“This education team allows our front line to stay free for doing that work that the public continues to expect us to do, and that’s keep communities safe.”

Based on the cases his officers have responded to, Pedersen said there has been a “very small amount of non-compliance” — and education has worked each time. 

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