Are 2-1-1s with bigger COVID-19 roles expanding their base?

August 20, 2020

2-1-1s serving as the primary COVID-19 helpline in their service area appear to be reaching a broader cross-section of Americans. We examined 398,301 COVID-19 requests and 2,472,656 other requests received by 2-1-1s in 36 states during the pandemic. As we found in a prior report, callers in low-poverty ZIP codes were still much more likely to be calling 2-1-1 about COVID-19 than were callers in higher poverty ZIP codes. However, we also split 2-1-1s into two groups based on their role in responding to COVID-19 needs in their states. The top chart includes states where 2-1-1s have been formally designated as the official COVID-19 helpline or where 2-1-1s were being promoted by the state as a community resource. In these states, nearly 30% of requests from callers in low-poverty ZIP codes were about COVID-19. In other states (bottom chart), only 15% of requests from callers in low-poverty ZIP codes were for COVID-19, and difference across poverty-level groups is considerably smaller. One explanation is that by virtue of their increased visibility in responding to COVID-19, 2-1-1s in the former group are reaching a more diverse group of callers, who are – in every poverty-level category – more likely to be seeking COVID-19 information. Analyses included requests from March 12 to August 17, 2020. States designating 2-1-1 as an information source include CT, DE, IA, ME, NC, NJ, VA, WI and WY. States not designating 2-1-1 as an information source include AL, AR, FL, IL, KS, KY, MN, MO, NE, NV, NY, OH, PA, SC, SD and TN. These classifications were based upon web searches conducted by Focus-19 team members between April and June, 2020. We take responsibility for any errors leading to misclassification.

Contributors: Cindy Charles, Rachel Garg, Balaji Golla, Matthew Kreuter, Jennifer Wolff