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How does Iowa's 2-1-1 COVID call line work?

The United Ways of Iowa operates four call centers statewide under the 2-1-1 number.

IOWA, USA — Have a COVID vaccine question for Local 5? Email us or send us a text at 515-457-1026.

One of the resources for people to get help with vaccine information in Iowa is 2-1-1, the statewide call center. During the pandemic, it's become a lifeline for a lot of people. 

Local 5 spoke to Joining us now is Deann Cook, Executive Director of United Ways of Iowa

Local 5: You deal with the 2-11 call center and understand that it is a vital resource. Talk to us about the people on the other end of the line, the call specialists: How are those people trained?

Cook: The call specialists undergo extensive training. They have about 80 hours of learning about all the resources, learning about all the systems that we use. And then they spend another week or so on the line with a train call specialist. 

So they have a lot of backup and supervision as they're getting started before they really start taking calls on their own. So they come to the job really well prepared.

Local 5: And what kind of service can 2-1-1 provide for people looking to get a vaccine appointment?

Cook: Right now, that's not something that 2-1-1 can do. For the past year, we have been Iowa Department of Public Health's COVID hotline. So Iowans are welcome to call 2-1-1 for any general COVID questions, general questions about the vaccine. Those are the kinds of services that are available.

Local 5: Roughly how many call centers do serve the state and is that your service that we can call around the clock? 

Cook: There are four call centers in Iowa. It doesn't matter where you live, you will get routed to the right one based on your zip code. So no worries about that. And it is 24/7, 365 days a year. So you can pick up that phone anytime you have a question.

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Local 5: And we know that it's sometimes the 211 system is used to identify issues or need around our state. So how does that work?

Cook: So we can tell by the call volume and by the topics of the calls what are the most pressing needs. So we're able to see when we have a spike in a certain area about a certain issue. 

So an example that our director often uses is when the mortgage crisis was happening 10 years ago, they could predict that because they saw those calls going up and up before it actually hit. So whether it's a big thing or a small thing, we can tell ... we're kind of an early warning system.

Local 5: We know a lot of people are overwhelmed right now with the vaccine process. So what advice would you have to those people who are watching this and just simply don't know what to do?

Cook: So 2-1-1 is always there to listen, is always there to provide a plan for you. We will likely direct you back to your health departments or the places that are in your area that are providing actual registration and scheduling services. That's not something we can do, but we can certainly talk you through your concerns and help you make a plan.

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