It’s been two years since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, acknowledging the virus would likely spread to all countries around the globe. Since then, more than 220 countries and territories around the world have reported almost 447 million confirmed cases of the virus and more than 6 million have died. The U.S. has seen more than 79 million cases of coronavirus as of March 7 and more than 960,000 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.
VACCINES DEVELOPED In 2020 as the virus spread around the world, scientists began working to produce safe and effective coronavirus vaccines. In December of that year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency use authorization for both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. Since then, more than 4.99 billion people worldwide have received a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine or about 65% of the world population. In the U.S., more than 553 million vaccine doses have been administered and 65% of the entire population is fully vaccinated.
PRESENT STATE After strong surges of the Delta and Omicron variants earlier this year, coronavirus activity is down across the country. Hospitalizations have also fallen. All 50 states have done away with mandates on wearing masks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports more than 90% of the U.S. population now reside in areas where masks are not necessary indoors.
RED CROSS ROLE COVID-19 has not changed the American Red Cross mission — we provided the same support throughout the first two years of the pandemic as we always have. 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. A Virtual Family Assistance Center is available to assist anyone who has lost a loved one.
BIOMEDICAL SERVICES For a limited time, the Red Cross has resumed testing all blood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies. Plasma from routine donations that have high levels of COVID-19 antibodies may be used as convalescent plasma to help meet the needs of COVID-19 patients with a weakened immune system.
The Red Cross first tested donations for COVID-19 antibodies earlier in the pandemic to provide convalescent plasma for patients. When infection rates decreased and new treatment options became available, the Red Cross discontinued the program. With the surge of new variants, hospitals began to seek out more treatments for their most vulnerable patients, and new clinical trial data has shown that convalescent plasma may benefit immunocompromised patients. The Red Cross is resuming this program to ensure doctors have every tool available to support treatment.
DISASTER RELIEF During two very active disaster years, the Red Cross provided the same types of support we always do after emergencies. We helped families after disasters of all sizes by making sure they had a safe place to stay, food to eat and resources to help them recover. To help keep our workforce and the people we serve safe, we are used strong safety precautions including masks, health screenings, enhanced cleaning procedures and encouraging social distancing regardless of vaccine status. In addition, many Red Cross volunteers worked closely with partners to help support vaccination efforts in communities across the country during 2021. When requested by local officials, this support included 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.
TRAINING SERVICES The Red Cross continues to provide lifesaving training as the pandemic continues. 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 (SAF) In the face of emergencies, including COVID-19, the Red Cross continues to support the U.S. military service members, veterans, caregivers and their families both domestically and overseas. While some services are now virtual, the Red Cross Hero Care Network enables us to provide critical services to military families all over the world. The Hero Care Network offers confidential assistance to veterans and their families by connecting them with local, state and national resources worldwide. The Red Cross Military Veteran Caregiver Network (MCVN) is also available for veterans and their caregivers to offer support for the country’s approximately 5.5 million caregivers of military and veteran wounded, ill or injured.
INTERNATIONAL SERVICES COVID-19 knows no borders, and while each Red Cross society’s response to this pandemic has been different, coordinated efforts by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have largely supported community-based health and hygiene promotion, access to basic services, support for containment and treatment, and fighting rumors and stigma with accurate information. As countries have increased access to vaccines, Red Cross teams are coordinating closely with government authorities to support vaccination efforts. To strengthen this crucial work, the American Red Cross has “virtually deployed” specialists with skills in mental health, communications, information management, assessment and planning. We also funded activities like health and hygiene promotion, case detection, surveillance and contact tracing in the global fight against the coronavirus.