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.
As of April 7, more than 1.4 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide, with more than 80,000 deaths. The virus has now spread to every continent except Antarctica, with confirmed cases in countries where CRS works, like Nigeria, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso and Senegal.
Catholic Relief Services experts can provide information and interviews about our work to stop the spread of coronavirus. Please email [email protected] to schedule an interview. To find current examples of CRS experts speaking about COVID-19, please visit our CRS In the News section.
Media Relations Manager
More than 1,400,000
Number of Cases
More than 80,000
Number of Deaths
More than 180
Countries With Confirmed Cases
For a complete overview of CRS' COVID-19 response, you can read our Emergency Factsheet here.
- Afghanistan: CRS has been supporting and promoting healthy practices, such as handwashing, by distributing over 60,000 bars of soap and educational leaflets about the virus and how to prevent it from spreading. Information about the virus was provided in community meeting areas like mosques.
- Gaza: CRS has distributed over 12,000 COVID-19 informational leaflets, held 14 caregiver awareness sessions, and sent information about the virus via text messages. More than 340 vulnerable families have been able to access hygiene items through CRS' voucher program and staff are working to increase the availability of those supplies, as well as food assistance.
- Iraq: In vulnerable communities like Baghdad and Kirkuk, CRS has distributed information on how to best prevent the coronavirus from spreading.
- Lebanon: CRS is supporting Caritas Lebanon to help train staff in healthcare centers on the best prevention and control methods. Staff members are also developing COVID-19 awareness materials like posters and flyers that can be given to local communities. CRS partners have begun distributing hygiene kits and gathering protective equipment and cleaning supplies for medical staff, volunteers and patients.
With a presence in over 35 African countries, CRS is well positioned to carry out a response to a possible coronavirus outbreak. 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 is ready and well prepared to respond to a potential outbreak in Africa.
- Democratic Republic of the Congo: CRS is working to support preventative measures, like reinforcing correct hand-washing techniques, as well as providing accurate information about the virus.
- Ethiopia: Alongside local governments and the Ministry of Health, CRS is working to increase general awareness of COVID-19, reinforce prevention methods, and provide partner health facilities with protective gear such as gloves, aprons, masks and sanitizers.
- Ghana: CRS has installed hand washing stations in public spaces like truck stops and markets. Staff members are also increasing community awareness of COVID-19 through radio programs.
- 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. More trainings are expected to begin in Kisumu soon.
- Liberia: With the support of the National Catholic Health Council in Liberia, CRS has started to train 667 health care workers in 23 health facilities on COVID-19 detection, as well as secure protective gear for them.
- 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.
- Nigeria: In communities where CRS is still actively working, staff are distributing 500 handwashing statons, 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.
- Sierra Leone: Through the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program, CRS staff have been preparing take home meals for 50,000 students and their families. More than 2,500 people have also attended CRS led workshops to learn basic COVID-19 facts and prevention techniques.
- Somalia: CRS and partners are conducting door-to-door screenings and focused on continuing to raise awareness about COVID-19 and dispel myths about the virus.
- Burkina Faso and Madagascar: CRS is focused on improving water, sanitation and hygiene within health facilities so they can best combat COVID-19.
- Bangladesh: CRS and Caritas are working closely with traditional leaders to spread accurate health information about COVID-19. Staff are also working to help design triage sections for health centers and bolster shelter, especially as monsoon season approaches.
- Cambodia: CRS is working closely with the health ministry to provide support where needed, assist with spreading accurate health information about the virus, and has begun training for rapid response teams that will respond to rural areas of the country.
- Nepal: Through community leaders, CRS has distributed 11,500 informational brochures and more than 200 banners with COVID-19 messaging to four districts. Local staff are also working on re-engineering mapping technology that will allow local officials to track confirmed cases.
- Philippines: Staff members are providing food baskets to 125 people with disabilities and cash assistance to other vulnerable families that will allow them to have food and hygiene items for at least the next month.
Latin America and the Caribbean
- Guatemala and 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 to ensure prevention.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: CRS is working closely with migrants and refugees to raise their awareness of COVID-19 and best prevention practices. Staff are providing informational leaflets that are available in four languages for the diverse communities within the country.
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.
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?
According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the global mortality rate is around 4.4% and can vary significantly from country to country. For example, as of March 24, the mortality rate in the United States is around 1.2%. These estimates are only based on confirmed cases and could decrease as more people around the world are tested for COVID-19.
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?
The outbreak so far has not stopped CRS from helping needy people around the world, but programs could be impacted before long. For instance, in Afghanistan, CRS had to suspend 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 continue our work.
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.