Calls to state’s 2-1-1 hotline spike amid fears, anxiety surrounding the coronavirus

Call center representatives assist residents across the state with questions and concerns about the virus. The hotline is operational 24/7.
FRAMINGHAM – The phones have been ringing off the hook at Mass 211 since last Thursday.
The hotline was established in 2007 by the Council of Massachusetts United Ways to connect callers with a wide variety of assistance, including child care, mental health counseling, legal and financial aid and senior services.
But since last Thursday, calls have focused on one topic: the coronavirus.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency activated the crisis line last week to provide residents with information on the virus ranging from potential symptoms to how to apply for unemployment. Call takers at the United Way of Tri-County have taken more than 11,000 calls since last Thursday, the call volume they typically receive in a month, said Eileen Davis, vice president of Mass 211.
“There’s a lot of worry, angst,” she said at the call center Friday. “It’s evolving. It’s continuously changing.”
Initially, many residents called the hotline to report symptoms and potential exposure to the virus. But in recent days, callers have been seeking advice on unemployment, how to support their families and from local businesses asking if they should remain open. State Department of Public Health workers are on staff to answer specific medical questions.
“There’s a wide spectrum of needs,” said Davis.
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The United Way’s Call2Talk service has also seen a spike in recent days. The service provides confidential support to callers around the state who are in distress or at risk of harming themselves. Many callers are feeling anxiety over the coronavirus crisis, including financial burdens and being homebound for several days.
“That platform is extremely busy right now,” said Davis. “That piece of the program has been taxed.”
Though many members in the call center feel the same stress and anxiety over the virus, they leave their worries at the door when they clock in for upwards of a 12-hour shift.
“This is a very stressful job on a regular day,” said Davis. “Nobody calls here happy. ...You’re doing something for the overall good.”
Being able to provide callers relevant and reliable information and resources helps Regina Davis get through the stress.
“That helps me keep myself calm,” said Regina Davis, who lives in Worcester. “A lot of problems come from a lack of resources and information.”
Lesley Jenness, program manager for Mass 211, said the staff has done an excellent job of de-escalating residents’ fears about the coronavirus in an empathetic and caring manner.
“The staff is very motivated to help individuals,” she said. “We already have a firm grasp on what people need.”
Mass 211 officials do not expect the call volume to decrease in the near future, as concerns surrounding the virus continue to mount.
The hotline is operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Residents can dial 211 from their telephone to get connected. Residents can call 508-532-2255 or text C2T to 741741 to be connected to the Call2Talk line.
Jeff Malachowski can be reached at 508-490-7466 or Follow him on Twitter @JmalachowskiMW.
Staff photos by Art Illman