Coronavirus: Facts and How to Help

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Coronavirus Pandemic


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.

Coronavirus Spreading

As of August 7, more than 19.1 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide, with more than 715,000 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.

Our Experts

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.

CRS In the News

To find current examples of CRS experts speaking about COVID-19, please visit our CRS In the News section.


Nikki Gamer

Media Relations Manager

[email protected]



Coronavirus Fast Facts

More than 19,100,000

Number of Cases

More than 715,000

Number of Deaths

More than 185

Countries With Confirmed Cases

CRS Response

For a complete overview of CRS' COVID-19 response, you can read our Emergency Factsheet here.

Middle East

  • Afghanistan: CRS has been supporting and promoting healthy practices, such as hand-washing, 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 and is working with Caritas Iraq to support seven health clincs 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. 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.
  • West Bank: CRS is working with Coordinating Catholic Aid Organizations in the Holy Land, a network of 13 faith-based organizations, to support vulnerable families and health facilities that are responding to COVID-19.


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 through radio broadcasts. Staff members are working to provide more than 3,500 families with food and cash assistance and more than 8,000 families with hand-washing kits.
  • Ethiopia: Alongside local governments and the Ministry of Health, CRS is working to increase general awareness of COVID-19 and provide partner health facilities with protective gear. Some of these materials, along with tents and infrared thermometers, have already been provided to more than 100 Catholic health facilities across the country.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • India: Together with Caritas, CRS has provided hygiene kits and prevention information to over 500 migrant workers. 
  • Myanmar: CRS is supporting Caritas in Kachin State to provide hand-washing stations to displaced people, as well as converting two buildings in the state into isolation centers.
  • 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 150 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: CRS and partners are preparing 61,000 take home rations for students that will be delivered with the Ministry of Education. A virtual mental health session called "Mental and Emotional Health: Taking Care of our Family in Times of Crisis" has also begun in the country.
  • 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.


  • Albania: CRS is supporting Caritas Albania as it adapts its emergency food distribution to include hygiene items and COVID-19 prevention tips for families affected by the November 2019 earthquake.
  • Bulgaria: CRS has expanded its partnership with Caritas Sofia to help provide 400 hot meals and hygiene kits for marginalized groups, including homeless, elderly, refugees and migrants.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina: CRS is working closely with migrants and refugees to raise their awareness of COVID-19 and best prevention practices. Staff have also provided 2,700 elderly people with home deliveries of food and hygiene items.
  • Italy: Together with faith-based partners, CRS is supporting "Contagion of Hope" in Lombardy, which provides food, shelter and hygiene supplies to people most vulnerable to COVID-19.

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.

Coronavirus Prevention

Coronavirus Prevention; Regularly wash your hands with soap and water, sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth


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.

Can you help us to get the word out?

Follow and retweet @catholicRelief and @CRSNews on Twitter for the latest updates.

Thank you for your compassion. Your support saves lives.