Utah 211 is dedicated to connecting Utahans to the resources they need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Editor’s Note: This is the first story in United Way of Salt Lake’s “Look for the Helpers” series, focusing on the organizations and agencies on the frontlines of dealing with the economic impacts of COVID-19. The organizations featured in this series are recipients of the funds raised through United Ways of Utah’s COVID-19 Community Response Fund.
The spread of COVID-19 over the last several weeks has required Utah 211’s John Rokich to wear two hats – one as a partnership coordinator for 211 and the other as the public information officer for the organization’s emergency management.
Through the latter role, he plans, trains, and manages 211’s transition into an Emergency Public Information resource and phone center for the entire state during times of crisis — like right now.
211 plays such a major role in disasters and crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and Utah’s recent earthquakes. Since the pandemic began, Rokich and the entire 211 team have come together to support our state by becoming a major (if not go-to) Emergency Information resource, all while working remotely to quell the spread of the virus.
“I have been so impressed with how quickly and professionally our entire (211) team was mobilized and went into disaster information mode this entire month,” he said.
Who is calling 211 and what resources and services are they looking for right now?
The 211 team has learned a lot about what people across our state are needing during this pandemic.
According to data collected between March 12 and 19, 81% of callers said the spread of COVID-19 has made it harder for them or their families to meet their needs, such as housing, food, or income.
Call volume during that same time more than doubled as well, with over 40% coming from either couples with kids or single parents, and more than a third coming from individuals without kids.
Although 211 information specialists are getting requests about a variety of resources and services, there about five areas getting the most call volume, including:
• Income support after being laid off, having their hours reduced, or are unable to take as many hours now that their kids are out of school
• Food and meal information now that school is closed or if the caller isn’t sure if delivery options are still available
• Housing assistance for those that are worried about making their rent or mortgage payments due to job loss or reduced income
• Assistance with paying utilities.
• Information on where to go to get healthcare needs met if they are under or uninsured during a time when most immediate medical needs are about COVID-19.
“The main theme that I’m hearing (during calls or through messages) is that people’s livelihoods have been affected drastically…,” one specialist said. “One caller said she was ‘in shock because this happened almost without warning and she wasn’t prepared.”
But how does 211 respond differently during a crisis like this?
It became clear that COVID-19 would be a big deal in the United States and here in Utah starting in mid to late February, Rokich said. The state held a briefing and was in constant communication with 211 and other emergency operations agencies and personnel so entities like 211, law enforcement, and other first responders were in the know.
In any disaster situation, including COVID-19, the process of activating as an emergency information resource is the same. 211 stays in constant communication and coordination with Utah’s local jurisdictions, the state’s Division of Emergency Management, and others to stay as up to date on the current information around the disaster itself and its effects across the state.
211 monitors incoming questions about the event and starts information gathering to make sure those taking calls have accurate answers about where to get healthcare, where safe shelter is, or how to get assistance during the time of disaster.
Rokich said pandemic response is a little different than those of a natural disaster like earthquakes, especially in terms of the speed of information updates.
“Information rolls out more slowly, but involves the health sector more directly,” he said. “Rumor control is also very challenging and medical and family support resources become scarce or overwhelmed as time goes on.”
How can you help 211 keep Utahns informed and connected during this pandemic?
There are still so many unknowns surrounding how and when daily life for Utahns will go back to normal.
But Rokich said that is why information referral resources like 211 are so important to have in communities not just in Utah, but across the country.
“Information is power,” he said, “and by informing and referring people, they can be empowered to get their own lives back to normal as quickly as possible.”
The work 211 is doing during the COVID-19 pandemic wouldn’t be possible without the support of generous community members like you. If you are looking for a way to help our community deal with the economic consequences of coronavirus, considering making a donation to our COVID-19 Community Response Fund.
25% of donations to the fund will go directly to Utah 211’s information and referral work. Help Utahns get connected to the resources and services they’ll need to make it through this pandemic.