Op-Ed: United Way Response to Coronavirus

During Hurricanes Irene and Sandy and during the severe flu outbreak and hepatitis scare two years ago, United Way’s 2-1-1 Helpline was on the front lines, giving residents accurate information and connecting them to the resources they needed to deal with these emergencies. So it came as no surprise last week when Westchester County Executive George Latimer announced that residents should call 2-1-1 for questions on the coronavirus outbreak.

Since 2006, United Way’s 2-1-1 Helpline has handled more than 600,000 calls from residents from Long Island to the Adirondacks.  United Way’s 2-1-1 is a free, confidential, multilingual information (over 200 languages) and referral helpline available 24/7, 365 days a year. Nationally certified call specialists are trained to answer questions and provide referrals. Last year, we added text messaging to our services, and this year expanded the hours that specialists can respond to texts. The center handles about 80,000 calls each year.

Already we are receiving about 100 calls a day about coronavirus in addition to our regular volume with questions like: “I was in contact with someone who has a confirmed case of coronavirus, what do I do?” “I am experiencing flu-like symptoms like a fever, cough, and shortness of breath.” “I am a medical professional, and I want to know if I should be closing my facility.”

In times like these, accurate information is very important. More than ever, residents rely on services provided by government and not-for-profit organizations to address their needs during a crisis. 2-1-1 was created for just this purpose.

We are a highly trusted resource. In addition to our work with local government agencies, we were chosen by the Centers for Disease Control as one of 27 call centers across the nation to participate in Flu on Call, a public health emergency response program in the event of a national flu pandemic.

In recent days that training has helped prepare us for what lies ahead. We anticipate more calls as public officials like County Executive Latimer continue to urge residents to turn to us with their questions.

As this public health emergency continues to unfold, we will be here for residents of the Hudson Valley, Long Island and upstate New York, answering questions about food assistance, housing and shelters, utilities, abuse prevention, suicide, foster parenting, medical help and more.  If you have questions or need assistance, please call us at 2-1-1 or visit us online at UWWP.org


Tom Gabriel, President and CEO, United Way Westchester and Putnam

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