VANCOUVER -- An advocate for B.C. seniors outlined the province's next steps in taking care of one of its most at-risk groups: the elderly.

The province is expanding its 211 hotline, which can now be called from anywhere in B.C.

Live operators will manage calls from people looking to volunteer and from isolated seniors.

"Connecting the people who want to help with the people who need help is going to be a key strategy in meeting the needs of seniors in the coming weeks," Isobel Mackenzie said.

The 211 operators will try to do match volunteers up with seniors who may need help with certain tasks.

There is also a website meant to help those connections.

"Wherever you live in B.C., if you want to help seniors with virtual visits, picking up and delivering some groceries, picking up and delivering some medications, maybe dropping off a meal or two, call 211 or visit the website," she said.

"We'll try to match you up with a senior in your community who needs help."

Seniors and their family members can do the same, and be matched with a volunteer or an existing service in the area.

In addition, the province has increased funding to the Better at Home program, a province-wide system that helps support seniors' non-medical needs.

Two dozen of the agencies involved in Better at Home will be used for COVID response, and will help with the new screening and matching processes.

The funding is also meant to ensure core initiatives can still be carried out during COVID-19.

Existing services still available through Better at Home include meal and grocery delivery, help with cooking, wellness checks, calls and visits.

Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Mackenzie said seniors are afraid of getting COVID-19, and that if they do, they will die.

She said they're also worried about unrelated health complications, and whether they'll be able to get care for those during the outbreak.

Many rely on friends, family and neighbours for socializing, transportation, groceries and more – a support system that allows many seniors to live independently in their own homes.

But it's a system that has been strained as others take precautions against the novel coronavirus.

So, she announced, the health ministry and B.C. MLAs have been strategizing about seniors' support.

During that time, she said she received an overwhelming response showing members of the public and local businesses are concerned and looking for ways to help.

She said her office has been flooded with calls from people wanting to help, but also with questions from people who need help – the seniors themselves, and family members who live in other cities.

"Seniors are especially worried about COVID-19. It is particularly serious for the elderly people and those with underlying health conditions," Mackenzie said, as she outlined health officials' guidelines on physical distancing.

"It's not just about you getting sick, it's about bringing the infection home to your family."

Mackenzie said most people are following the advice of public health officials by staying home and keeping their distance.

She said seniors want to follow the advice as well, but are going to need help to do so.

"We can't let social distancing become isolation," Health Minister Adrian Dix said.

The update followed an announcement from other provincial officials that the province will suspend evictions and offer a renter's rebate of up to $500 a month for British Columbians