2-1-1 Santa Barbara County, the helpline that connects callers to local health and human services, is experiencing a steep rise in calls since the COVID-19 outbreak and social distancing requirement. In the last two weeks of March – March 16-30 – calls to 2-1-1 increased by 300 percent.

In the first five days of April, the call center handled close to 500 calls, exceeding the typical volume of a full month. Sixty percent of the call volume is for senior-related resources such as food delivery.

As the county enters into its fifth week of lockdown, more callers are now inquiring about healthcare, including help with domestic violence and mental health issues. As of April 12, 2-1-1 Santa Barbara County is the main phone line for COVID-19 information and resources. The county’s local Office of Emergency call center has closed.

“At first, calls were for general information such as What is COVID-19? and Who is at risk?” said 2-1-1 program manager Elisa Pardo. “Shortly after the first week of shelter-in-place, it was inquiries for food information, child care resources, rent assistance, utility assistance and general financial assistance.

“Now we are experiencing more healthcare questions, with calls related to mental health issues increasing countywide.”

From February to March of this year, 2-1-1 Santa Barbara County had a 30 percent increase in mental health calls, including inquiries about support for depression and suicidal thoughts. Domestic violence-related calls have tripled since the restrictions on movement due to COVID-19.

2-1-1 Santa Barbara County is the centralized information and referral system, connecting people to health and human services, post-disaster relief, and public instruction through live assistance from trained and certified information and referral specialists.

The helpline is multilingual, confidential and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at no cost to the caller. For county residents in need of COVID-19 information and resources:

• Dial 2-1-1 with inquiries (if calling from 805 area code).

• Dial 800 400-1572 (if calling from an area code other than 805).

• Text ZIP code to 898-211 to connect with a live call specialist.

• Visit www.211sbco.org

The 2-1-1 program works directly with the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Santa Barbara County Public Health and other local organizations and agencies to gather, update and house resources and contact information that is then used by accredited call center specialists in their response to calls and texts from the public.

“We’ve noticed that our call volume is not only based on what is happening in our community but is also highly influenced by what is being covered in the media,” said Pardo. 2-1-1 was recently recognized by California Gov. Gavin Newsom as an “incredible system that connects people to real services.”

Newsom announced the creation of a statewide hotline in coordination with the local 2-1-1 systems, so Californians have a one-stop shop to answer their questions and get assistance during this crisis. For example, the 2-1-1 system can help older Californians access grocery and medication delivery while staying at home.

2-1-1 Santa Barbara County is supporting a initiative for senior food and meal distribution by serving as the centralized request line. A countywide partnership between Community Action Commission, Foodbank, Care 4 Paws and the city of Santa Maria provides meals and groceries, including pet food, to individuals 60 years of age or older, or 55 years of age or older with disabilities.

“We want the public to know about and make use of this valuable community service, but we also want them to know that in a life-threatening emergency, always dial 911,” Pardo said.

During the Thomas Fire and Montecito flood/debris flow, calls to 2-1-1 increased by 1,000 percent for disaster-related aid and information. More typically, the needs are for mental health and addiction services, housing, legal assistance and public safety.