One year ago on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, acknowledging the virus would likely spread to all countries around the globe. Now a year later, 219 countries and territories around the world have reported confirmed cases of the virus. Billions of people have faced lockdowns. More than 117 million people across the globe have been infected and more than 2.6 million have died. The U.S. has seen more than 29 million cases of coronavirus as of March 9 and more than 525,000 deaths due to the virus.
THE BEGINNING On January 19, 2020, the first person in the U.S. diagnosed with COVID-19 was a resident of Washington state who had recently returned from a trip to China. In February 2020, the U.S. declared COVID-19 a public health emergency, followed by a national emergency declaration on March 13, 2020.
Soon many states issued stay-at-home orders, mandating people remain at home except for essential reasons such as employment or needing medical help. Masks became the norm and we all learned how to social distance and began washing our hands with a vengeance. Those of us who were able began to work from home as offices across the country closed. Schools and colleges closed, and students began to learn virtually. Unemployment numbers soared, affecting every state, industry and major demographic group in the U.S. Almost a year later, the unemployment rate is 6.2 percent, translating to 10 million people in this country out of work, as of February 2021.
HOW THE RED CROSS IS HELPING COVID-19 has not changed the Red Cross mission — we are still providing the same support we always have. Our teams are doing everything we can to keep people safe and healthy during this pandemic.
Since the onset, the Red Cross focused on the safety and wellbeing of our employees, volunteers, blood donors and recipients, partners and the people we serve. We implemented new safety protocols across all operations including face mask requirements, facility temperature screenings, social distancing measures and enhanced cleaning practices. The Red Cross worked closely with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as state and local agencies.
While the pandemic has weighed heavily on the nation and throughout the world, the Red Cross continues to offer support and care during a difficult time, bringing comfort, hope and light when individuals and families needed it most.
In December 2020, the FDA approved the first COVID-19 vaccine for use in the U.S. Now just months later, providers are administering about 2 million doses of the vaccines each day.
As COVID-19 vaccination efforts continue, the Red Cross is supporting local communities across the country in their efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. Depending on the circumstances, our support may include helping to set up vaccination sites, collecting information from people being vaccinated, and providing water and snacks for medical staff and people waiting to be vaccinated. Red Cross volunteers who are medical professionals may also be working with local authorities to help give vaccinations if their state licenses permit them to do so.
In addition to these support efforts unique from state to state, a Virtual Family Assistance Center is available to assist anyone who has lost a loved one.
DISASTER CYCLE SERVICES In addition to a global pandemic, Americans experienced more billion-dollar disasters in 2020 than any other year on record. Throughout it all, the Red Cross continued to provide support for those devastated by disasters both large and small, although our service delivery at times looked different. Starting in Spring 2020, the Red Cross began prioritizing hotel rooms over large, group shelters for those displaced by emergencies. Meals were left outside hotel rooms or provided at locations where community members could safely pick up food. And volunteers worked both on the ground and virtually to connect families with support and resources to aid their recovery efforts. Despite the pandemic, the Red Cross and our partners provided more than 1.3 million overnight stays in emergency lodging during 2020, more than in any of the previous ten years.
BIOMEDICAL SERVICES Early in the pandemic, the Red Cross experienced a record number of blood drive cancellations as businesses and organizations closed or restricted public access. The Red Cross worked closely with government partners to ensure that blood donations remained classified as an essential service, allowing critical blood collections to continue. This coordinated effort, combined with new blood drive partnerships and the generosity of volunteer blood donors, helped the Red Cross overcome a severe blood shortage in March 2020. We are supplying blood products for patients in need of transfusions, including trauma victims and those who need surgery or cancer treatments. As we commemorate the one-year milestone of the pandemic, we also mark a year of tremendous generosity and offer our gratitude to the tens of thousands of individuals who recovered from COVID-19 and rolled up their sleeves to give convalescent plasma.
TRAINING SERVICES The Red Cross continues to provide lifesaving training during this critical time. Essential courses have been modified to include social distancing, face masks, virtual training and certification extensions. Online courses include new COVID-19 ones for safe work practices and psychological first aid. We’ve also provided responder guidance for companies and hospitals to adjust their training during COVID-19 to maintain their ability to save lives.
SERVICE TO THE ARMED FORCES In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Red Cross teams are providing relief and helping to vaccinate U.S. service members on military installations, in treatment facilities and in veterans’ hospitals in the U.S. and around the world. Volunteers supported military and veteran hospital staff, assisted the military overseas to help map and contain the spread of COVID-19, provided online stress-relieving virtual workshops for military families and caregivers and distributed $6.7 million in emergency financial assistance to nearly 5,000 military families on behalf of the Military Aid Societies. In addition, 2020 brought an increase in emergency messages between deployed service members and loved ones at home. Red Crossers also sewed more than 120,000 face coverings that were distributed to military and veteran communities.
INTERNATIONAL SERVICES Just as the American Red Cross fights COVID-19 in the U.S., our teams also battle the virus around the world. The American Red Cross has deployed nine disaster responders in a remote capacity and contributed more than $11.2 million to the global fight against the coronavirus. The funds are being used for health and hygiene promotion, case detection, surveillance and contact tracing, among other activities. In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh — home to the world’s largest refugee camp — the American Red Cross has helped add ‘hygiene hubs’ to public places and installed extra handwashing facilities. Because the congested neighborhoods are especially high-risk, thousands of camp volunteers trained by the Red Cross and Red Crescent are teaching fellow refugees about how to mitigate the spread of this virus. Livelihood projects funded by the Red Cross have pivoted from making clothing to sewing masks.
A YEAR LATER While each day more and more people are being vaccinated with COVID-19, the country is still seeing an average of more than 59,000 new cases every day. The CDC still urges everyone to take these easy steps to help slow the spread of COVID-19:
- Wear a mask to protect yourself and others and stop the spread of COVID-19.
- Stay at least six feet away from others who don’t live with you.
- Avoid crowds.
- If you are going out, avoid poorly ventilated indoor spaces and wash your hands often. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.