Some callers tattle on rule breakers, but most dial COVID-19 hotline for more urgent needs

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Here's the 411 on NC211: it's always been there, but there's never been anything like COVID-19 in North Carolina.

The ABC11 I-Team discovered the hotline has received some 41,000 calls since March 18, the day the United Way-powered service was tapped by the state to be part of the emergency response to the pandemic.

"There still is the medical piece of it, but there's the economic disaster affecting many, many North Carolinians, and that's where 211 steps in," Heather Black, NC211 statewide director, said. "Food, rent assistance, utility assistance, basic needs like that are what people are really worried about."

RELATED: These are the coronavirus questions NC 2-1-1 call center is answering

More than 1,300 calls came in this weekend alone as North Carolina began Phase 1 of Governor Roy Cooper's plan to reignite the state's economy by easing some restrictions on essential businesses.

According to Black, only 50 of those calls were related to Phase 1, including questions about safety, shopping out of state and finding outdoor church services.

Similarly, the vast majority of police departments and sheriff's offices around the Triangle reported little to no activity action on complaints about any COVID-19 social distancing concerns: Raleigh Police Department reported seven such calls, including at Brennan Station in North Raleigh, plus a nearby supermarket. Someone also complained about a mini mart and ice cream parlor. In all instances, officers left without writing any tickets or even filing any reports.

Wake Forest Police Department, similarly, responded to calls for crowds at Lowe's and a shopping complex parking lot and took no action. Cary Police Department, meanwhile, checked a gathering at a private residence and actually found they were compliant with the Executive Order.

For Black, the lack of calls on Phase 1 shows the effectiveness of the state's messaging with the public about what is and isn't allowed at this time. She said North Carolinians are likely focusing on more pressing issues, like getting unemployment or finding assistance for rent or bills.
"A lot of people live paycheck to paycheck, so when they miss that first paycheck it's disastrous," Black said. "They're hard working people. They've done everything they could to do it all right and pay your bills, but when you lose that job it's unnerving and it's really hard."

NC211 is also a bridge to other resources, including behavioral health hotlines like the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Hope4NC.

Data obtained by the I-Team shows a steady volume of 325 daily calls to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline,1-800-273-8255 (TALK), coming from all 100 North Carolina counties. Approximately 10 percent of the calls have been COVID related.

Officials are also reporting that two-thirds of callers are first-time callers, and there's been a general increase in callers reporting high anxiety, depression and active suicide risk.

Hope4NC (1-855-587-3463), receives about 20 calls per day, while Hope4Healers (919-226-2002) is also fielding dozens of calls specifically from first responders.

"I think fear of the unknown is a big factor," Jim Starlin, a former paramedic who now specializes in counseling first responders, said. "Universal precautions does not just pertain to just gloves and masks. It pertains to taking care of yourself."

What can we help you with? View our COVID-19 information and resources page here

Copyright © 2020 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.