Normally a constituent services specialist for the governor's office, Chris Howe-Smith ’19 is one of about 45 people who have been redirected to work the phone lines for 877-PA-HEALTH.
Two weeks ago, the governor’s office saw an uptick in calls about COVID-19 and determined that all incoming calls to the governor’s line should be rerouted to the Department of Health. Now in this time of need, Howe-Smith has joined the ranks in doing what he can to help.
“The two most common questions we get are, ‘How do I get tested?’ and folks who want me to diagnose them right then and there.”
When it comes to answering those questions and being a source of knowledge and comfort for these concerned citizens, Howe-Smith noted his time at F&M as a government major was key in helping him prepare.
“The best thing specifically preparing me for the job is keeping a level head in these situations,” Howe-Smith explained. “Every time a call comes through, I never know what I’m going to get. I have to think on my feet, be decisive. If someone is scared on the other line, how do I best calm them? Being able to think quickly, whether it’s giving guidance for if a barbershop should close down (governor says yes) to whether someone should seek medical attention, the ability to think decisively and quickly in situations has helped me.”
Today, all state employees are working from home, which Howe-Smith finds difficult—but necessary.
“The best thing we can do as a society right now is to stay home,” he said. However, he noted he is personally finding the transition challenging as he hasn’t been able to lean on his coworkers as he normally would during times of stress. “Right now, my coworker is my dog, who is asleep on the floor,” he said, laughing.
While at home, Howe-Smith is doing everything he can to keep a routine that closely resembles what his life normally looks like. He’s continuing to cook every night (an activity he loves), texting his family to keep spirits up, and even starting video chats with his friends from F&M as they’re missing their weekly trivia night for the first time.
“I feel sympathy for folks who are now fully off campus,” Howe-Smith said. “Fresh off of senior year, I know how much the last two months can mean. I’d just remind them this is the best way to keep people safe and, though with hardship, it will get better.”
Howe-Smith’s piece of advice for everyone?
“While it may seem simple, the best thing you can do is wash your hands,” he said, noting the governor is recommending 20 seconds, or two rounds of “Happy Birthday.” “Smokey the Bear says, ‘Only YOU can prevent forest fires,’ well, only YOU can prevent the spread of COVID-19!”