Coronavirus: Facts and How to Help
On New Year’s Eve 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was made aware of unusual pneumonia-like illnesses, and a week later announced it was a new virus belonging to the coronavirus family -- what is now called COVID-19. As the disease continued to spread throughout the world, on March 11, 2020, the WHO declared the virus to be a pandemic, marking the first known time that a coronavirus sparked a pandemic. The WHO continues to offer official recommendations to stop the spread of the virus, like putting in place travel advisories or restrictions, and continues to review public health measures that might curb the spread of the virus in affected countries, such as wearing masks and getting vaccinated.
As of September 8, more than 222 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide, with more than 4.5 million deaths. The virus has spread to every continent except Antarctica, with confirmed cases in countries where CRS works, like Nigeria, India, Burkina Faso and Senegal.
CRS In the News
To find current examples of CRS experts speaking about COVID-19, please visit our CRS In the News section.
Media Relations Manager
More than 222,000,000
Number of Cases
More than 4,500,000
Number of Deaths
More than 5.5 Billion
Vaccine Doses Administered
- Gaza: CRS has distributed over 12,000 COVID-19 informational leaflets and sent information about the virus via text messages. More than 2,000 vulnerable families have been able to access hygiene items through CRS' voucher program and 20,000 people have received food assistance.
- Iraq: In vulnerable communities like Baghdad and Kirkuk, CRS has distributed information on how to best prevent the coronavirus from spreading and is working with Caritas Iraq to support seven health clinics with their COVID-19 response.
- Lebanon: CRS is supporting Caritas Lebanon to help train staff in healthcare centers on the best prevention and control methods. CRS partners have distributed hygiene kits, protective equipment, and cleaning supplies for medical staff, volunteers, and patients.
- West Bank: Across the West Bank, CRS is providing support to 14 hospitals, including developing standard COVID-19 screening and admission procedures. CRS has also built triage areas at five hospitals and trained 300 hospital staff on infection prevention.
With a presence in over 35 African countries, CRS is well-positioned to carry out a response to any possible infectious disease outbreak, including COVID-19. During the 2014 West Africa Ebola crisis, CRS and partners led intensive efforts to prevent the spread of the disease. Drawing on lessons learned during that experience, CRS has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in a multitude of ways.
- Burkina Faso: For thousands of children in Burkina Faso, school closures have led to an increase in hunger and malnutrition. In order to combat this, CRS is distributing take-home rations to parents of students in more than 850 schools across the country.
- Burundi: In order to reduce the stigma around COVID-19, CRS staff have begun delivering radio messaging across the country, as well as delivering water tanks, soap, and cleaning supplies to Catholic health centers.
- Central African Republic: CRS has also supported more than 50 Catholic health centers by providing hygiene kits and training for health workers and distributed hand-washing kits to community staples, like schools and markets.
- Democratic Republic of the Congo: CRS is continuing to support preventative measures, like reinforcing correct hand-washing techniques, as well as providing accurate information about the virus through radio broadcasts. 12 Catholic health centers have received health and community awareness training from CRS staff members, as well as hand-washing stations and hygiene supplies.
- Ethiopia: Through much of 2020, CRS supported the Missionaries of Charity and more than 100 Catholic health facilities with trainings, equipment, hygiene supplies, and staffing support. CRS is also increasing emergency assistance, including food for more than 600,000 people in areas near the conflict in Ethiopia's northernmost region, Tigray.
- Ghana: CRS has provided more than 620 health staff with personal protective equipment, trained 566 health care providers on COVID-19 prevention, and installed more than 200 communities with hand-washing stations. Additionally, more than 4,200 community-based health care workers have been given training on COVID-19, allowing them to go house-to-house to provide safety and prevention awareness. For the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, CRS will support planning and help facilities assess and map their cold chain infrastructure.
- Guinea: CRS has distributed soap and sanitizer at the central prison in Conakry as well as supported the ministry of health in providing personal protective equipment for more than 530,000 health workers and volunteers.
- Kenya: CRS staff have completed trainings for 3,500 Nairobi health care workers as well as provided hand-washing booths in high-volume health facilities. CRS is also working with local governments and the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops to broadcast COVID-19 messaging over the radio, as well as supporting three Catholic hospitals in Nairobi that serve high-risk populations living in informal settlements and low-income communities.
- Liberia: With the support of the National Catholic Health Council in Liberia, CRS has trained more than 660 health care workers in 23 health facilities on COVID-19 detection, as well as secured protective gear for them. Staff have also installed 235 hand-washing stations in high-traffic areas and partnered with local radio stations to air COVID-19 prevention jingles. CRS and partner, the National Catholic Health Council, will engage working groups led by the health ministry on vaccine prioritization and roll-out.
- Madagascar: More than 11,700 families have been provided with soap and water cans in order to practice proper hand-washing. In partnership with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI), CRS will support COVID-19 vaccine delivery. CRS has worked with local leaders to develop COVID-19 response plans and has run radio broadcasts on the virus.
- Malawi: COVID-19 vaccines are progressing, focusing on 20% of the population, including front-line workers, the elderly, and those with serious medical conditions. CRS has provided personal protective equipment and other supplies to five health facilities and will help ensure vaccine access for the most vulnerable communities.
- Mali: CRS is providing those in need with personal protective equipment and, through the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program, is working to get take home meals to students while schools are closed.
- Niger: CRS' COVID-19 awareness efforts and door-to-door messaging reached 12,000 people. Staff also built hand-washing stations, trained health staff on COVID prevention, distributed masks, and supported radio messages, jingles, and sketches about home care for people sick with the coronavirus.
- Nigeria: In communities where CRS is still actively working, staff have distributed more than 500 hand-washing stations, soap, hygiene kits, and prevention information. In refugee camps in northwest Nigeria, CRS is continuing construction on vital structures like showers, latrines, and water points. CRS staff members have also trained more than 570 volunteers to serve as community mobilizers and provide COVID-19 prevention and safe practices and aired awareness and prevention messages over the radio.
- Sierra Leone: Through the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program, CRS staff prepared take-home meals for more than 50,000 students and 1,500 teachers. A second phase of these take-home rations has begun for 282 schools. CRS is also supporting the reopening of sixth-grade classes in more than 130 schools and distributing jerry cans to 310 schools in the Koinadugu and Kabala districts.
- Senegal: CRS trained local tailors to make 30,000 washable masks that were then given out at hand-washing stations at schools, markets, and transit stations. Five radio broadcasts and 10 public health caravans providing information on COVID-19 have been supported by CRS.
- Zimbabwe: CRS has given out personal protective equipment to nine health facilities in the cities of Harare and Bulawayo, as well as given food to nearly 1,000 families. CRS is partnering with the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference and taking part in health ministry COVID-19 briefings. A national task force for vaccine distribution has been set up by the ministry. The first batch will go to health workers and other front-line social and security workers, the elderly, people with chronic conditions, and prisoners and other confined populations.
- Bangladesh: CRS and Caritas staff have provided more than 8,000 people in Bangladesh with accurate COVID-19 information through household visits. Staff have also adapted all programming to be COVID-19 safe, including the work CRS does in Rohingya settlements.
- Cambodia: CRS is continuing to work closely with the health ministry to provide support where needed and assist with spreading accurate health information about the virus. More than 1,900 high-risk villages have received COVID-19 educational sessions and 670 quarantine center staff members have received training.
- India: Together with our partner Caritas India, CRS is supporting families and communities across the country. Staff have provided more than 14,000 people with food and hygiene kits as well as psychological support. CRS is also partnering with the Catholic Health Association of India - one of the world's largest health care networks that serves 21 million people a year. Support to CHAI includes providing personal protective equipment; medical supplies and disinfectants; staff and volunteer support; food for recovering patients; and mental health support for health care workers.
- Indonesia: More than 4,000 families across the country have been given hygiene kits and CRS staff have distributed hand sanitizer and masks to 110 village health workers. CRS has also installed 40 portable hand-washing stations in eight villages, helping more than 1,200 families avoid COVID-19.
- Nepal: Through community leaders, CRS distributed 11,500 informational brochures and more than 200 banners with COVID-19 messaging to four districts.
- Philippines: CRS supported partners and local engineers to incorporate COVID-19 safety practices as they worked with families to rebuild homes after Typhoon Goni struck in October 2020. More than 8,000 families received hygiene kits and more than 2,000 received emergency shelter assistance.
Latin America and the Caribbean
- Guatemala: Last year, CRS and Caritas San Marcos distributed hygiene kits and COVID-19 prevention messaging to more than 4,500 households. CRS and partners also distributed vital protection equipment to 28 health facilities and reached more than 6,000 households with prevention information through SMS and WhatsApp.
- Haiti: While students were still in lockdown, CRS staff distributed 800 workbooks designed to help manage stress, as well as conducted screenings for children under 5, looking for signs of acute malnutrition.
- Honduras: CRS continues to distribute take-home rations to 50,000 children and youth in the Intibucá Department, in western Honduras. Since COVID-19 began, CRS and partners have distributed more than 1,000 metric tons of commodities donated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. CRS has also distributed hygiene kits to 1,390 families affected by Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which made landfall in November 2020.
- Mexico: CRS is working with partners that manage several shelters along the migrant routes and U.S.-Mexico border to improve COVID-19 awareness and adjust safety procedures. 23 shelters in Central Mexico have also received donations from CRS of food and hygiene kits. As shelters have begun reopening, CRS and Caritas Mexico have been begun holding workshops for shelter staff on how to reduce the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: CRS is working closely with migrants and refugees to raise their awareness of COVID-19 and best prevention practices. Staff have provided more than 2,000 elderly people with home deliveries of food and hygiene items.
- Italy: Together with faith-based partners, CRS supported "Contagion of Hope" in Lombardy, which reached nearly 193,000 people with food, living, and hygiene supplies; 480 people with shelter; and at least 50 with accommodation, either for recovering patients, or medical staff who needed a place to stay between their shifts.
Our Work with Partners
CRS’ COVID-19 response, like all of our programming, includes close collaboration with many local partners because we understand that communities and organizations are the artisans of their own development. To strengthen our work together and create the most effective response possible, CRS has put together a list of COVID-19 best practices and resources that are available to partners, donors, and the NGO community.
Around the world, scientists have been hard at work developing vaccines for COVID-19. As of February 2021, 7 are being used globally, including the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines being distributed in the U.S. While these vaccines represent a possible end to the pandemic, it won't happen unless all countries around the world can access enough vaccines for a majority of their populations, including refugees and other vulnerable groups.
In order to help countries access COVID-19 vaccines equally, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched COVAX. Managed by the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEP), and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (Gavi), COVAX works with governments and manufacturers to buy vaccine doses and distribute them to where they are needed most.
While COVAX has successfully distributed tens of millions of COVID-19 vaccines to more than 100 countries, the initiative is facing roadblocks, mostly from vaccine nationalism, or countries buying up and hoarding more vaccine doses than their populations need. In the beginning of April, the WHO announced that more than 87% of the world's COVID vaccine supply has gone to higher-income countries like the U.S. and those in the European Union. The U.S. currently holds more COVID-19 vaccine doses than it has people living there. Vaccine equity is essential to bringing about the end of the pandemic, so it's important for richer nations to do their part by sharing excess vaccine doses and financially supporting initiatives like COVAX.
CRS' Acting Technical Advisor for COVID-19, Emily Doogue, recently spoke with CRS communications officer Megan Gilbert about the importance of getting vaccinated and ensuring global vaccine equity:
At the end of April, it was announced that the U.S. will begin sharing its stock of the AstraZeneca vaccine with the rest of the world once it clears federal safety reviews, which is a good first step towards vaccine equity.
As more countries receive vaccines, CRS will work closely with governments and local partners to ensure vaccines reach all communities.
I see the words “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” in the news. Are they the same thing?
“Coronavirus” is a family of viruses which can cause diseases you may have heard of, like SARS and MERS. The type of coronavirus currently in the news causes a disease named COVID-19, short for “coronavirus disease 2019.” Initially, it was referred to as a “novel coronavirus” because it hadn’t been previously identified.
Is this an outbreak, an epidemic or a pandemic...and what’s the difference?
The difference between all three is a matter of scale. An outbreak is a disease that shows up in a community or smaller area where it is unexpected, or in numbers much greater than expected. If an outbreak unexpectedly grows to a larger geographic area, such as a region of the world, it may be labeled an epidemic. If it becomes truly worldwide and affects a large number of people, it may be labeled a pandemic, such as the flu outbreak of 2009 which reached 214 countries.
As of March 11, 2020, the WHO is now describing the disease as a “pandemic.”
When was the last time the WHO declared a global pandemic?
In 2009 the WHO declared the H1N1 swine flu a global pandemic, triggering an aggressive global response and increased funds for vaccines.
How fatal is COVID-19?
The mortality rate for COVID-19 can vary significantly from country to country and is impacted by several factors, including; how many people are have been tested for COVID-19, the average age of a country's population, and a country's healthcare system. Since COVID-19 is still a relatively new disease, the exact mortality rate may not be known for quite some time. According to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center, the current mortality rate for the United States is 1.8%.
How is CRS working to prevent coronavirus from spreading?
CRS is currently responding around the world in several different countries. See the “CRS Response” section above for more information.
What experience does CRS have in responding to deadly outbreaks?
CRS is an international leader among NGOs (non-governmental organizations) with experience fighting fast-moving disease outbreaks, including cholera, Ebola and TB. CRS and our partners played a critical role in addressing the impact of Ebola in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. Because our partners are embedded in the countries’ most vulnerable and marginalized communities, and have built trusted, close working relationships with the communities and their health systems, they have exceptional reach and impact in providing clear information and promoting healthy behaviors and practices to prevent the spread of the virus.
How does the outbreak affect CRS’ work around the world?
A year into the pandemic, and CRS has been able to adapt almost all of its programming to respect COVID-19 guidelines like physical distancing. When the pandemic first started, we did have to suspend some work, for instance, in Afghanistan, CRS had to pause learning activities in a camp for internally displaced persons.
Perhaps our largest challenge is that the pandemic has forced us to restrict our movements. Practically and morally speaking, that is the opposite of what we do - reaching out to those in need, responding to disaster, poverty, and conflict around the globe. But we have been resilient and worked closely with local partners to continue our work.
What are the benefits of getting vaccinated?
COVID-19 vaccines help your immune system build up its response to the virus so that if you are exposed, your body can respond and keep you from getting severely ill. Getting vaccinated not only keeps you from catching a severe case of COVID-19, but it also protects the people around you. You can find more information about vaccines at the World Health Organization's Coronavirus disease: Vaccines webpage.
Are COVID-19 vaccines safe?
COVID-19 vaccines have been evaluated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and have been found to be safe and effective. A small number of people have experienced allergic reactions after receiving their shot, but those cases are extremely rare. The vaccines have also met the Federal Drug Administration's scientific standards for safety and effectiveness. You can find more information about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines at the CDC's Ensuring COVID-19 Vaccines Work webpage.
Why should the U.S. care about other countries getting the COVID-19 vaccines?
Everyone everywhere deserves equal access to a COVID-19 vaccine because morally it's the right thing to do. What's more, we know from the rapid spread of COVID-19 variants that if we don't end this pandemic everywhere, we can't end it anywhere.
I'm seeing a lot of information online about preventing COVID-19. Where can I get credible information about prevention?
There is a large amount of misinformation about the disease, especially on social media. For helpful and credible information you can trust, go to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) websites. The WHO has helpful visual "myth busters" avaliable here for downloading and sharing. The Guardian has also compiled a helpful list of COVID-19 claims.
What can I do to help?
- Donate in the box at the top of the page, or by clicking the red bar below to help us prevent coronavirus from spreading.
- Inform yourself. See "Where can I get credible information about coronavirus?" for where you can get helpful information.
- Pass along information on how to prevent the disease from spreading from reliable sources. This Centers for Disease Control page tells you everything you need to know.