Many Brevard County residents calling 211 can easily pose critical help questions. And that’s exactly where they went seeking advice when the COVID-19 pandemic became a local reality.
"From March 12 to June 10, about three months, we answered 16,165 calls from Brevard residents and that is about double the number of calls that would be answered in that time normally," 211 Brevard Communications Manager Belinda Stewart said. "We had 350 calls in one day on April 1. That is three and a half times the number of calls we normally answer in a day."
A 24-hour information and referral line serving Brevard County, if anything happens in the county everyone knows to call 211. Brevard County Emergency Management also works closely with 211 Brevard referring the public to the number.
"When something like this happens (COVID-19 pandemic), we work directly with them to be sure we have the most up-to-date information for people," Stewart said.
"Calls were first inquiring where to get tested for COVID-19 and then other health-related questions. But as people began to lose their jobs and had reduced sources of income, they were calling for financial assistance to basic needs, rent, mortgage or even to find food. We maintain a resource database all the time and this time special areas of information provide financial assistance and the food pantry closest to them."
Many of the questions callers ask are about mortgage and housing since some people in the area are still without work. And, even if they have gone back to work, they have lost that income.
"Senior citizens not wanting to go to the grocery store ask how they can get groceries, and how do they protect themselves in public," said Christina Brotemarkle, 211 Center training supervisor. "Seniors that lost a part-time job are asking about financial assistance. Others normally had someone to help with groceries and that person is not going out either. Questions about COVID-19 testing or urgent care and exposure are also asked. We give the information provided by the (Brevard County) emergency operation center."
The 211 operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Because of COVID-19, it is all hands-on deck with some staffers still answering phones who don’t normally have that as part of their duties, Stewart said.
The 50,000 calls for the normal year of course include hurricanes. COVID-19 will have significantly increased that annual call volume.