The work of the Red Cross continues – no matter what

The past six weeks have been unusually quiet in Northern California. The COVID-19 outbreak has forced much of the population indoors on shelter-in-place orders. For many, the 9-to-5 workday is a recent memory; classrooms are eerily silent. Parking lots nationwide sit empty; all but essential storefronts are closed indefinitely. The entire country has seemingly ground to a halt.

And yet, there are segments of the American workforce that forge on stronger than ever: intrepid healthcare workers, food service employees, first responders, and American Red Cross volunteers and employees. As the largest humanitarian aid organization in the country, the work of the Red Cross is constant, as is our commitment to helping those that need us.

Answering the Call, Whenever and Wherever We’re Needed
Sadly, disasters do not go on hiatus for a global pandemic. Our brave workers are still responding to disasters like home fires, tornadoes and earthquakes, delivering help and hope to impacted families. Since March 1, the Red Cross has responded to more than 109 incidents, with more than 300 adults and nearly 100 children impacted; more than $90,000 was provided in financial assistance for emergency lodging, food and clothing. During this time, our workers have spent more than 10,000 hours serving their communities, while 243 new volunteers joined us in our mission to help others.

Tennessee Tornadoes 2020

A Red Cross volunteer surveys tornado damage in Nashville, Tenn, in March 2020.

However, our work has not been business as usual since the COVID-19 outbreak has forced additional safety measures. Disaster response and assistance such as casework and mental health services are conducted over the phone whenever possible. When a response requires our personnel on scene, use of masks, hand sanitizer and strict adherence to social distancing guidelines are enforced.

Our work with federal, state and community partners is also ongoing, with our region’s mass care regional lead spearheading an effort to develop shelter training for our state partners to better manage isolation and quarantine sites like hotels. The Red Cross continues to support our partners currently supporting residents in isolation and quarantine at the local and county level. To date we have provided more than 200 cots, more than 1,500 blankets and nearly 2,000 comfort kits.

Give, That Others May Live
Alongside our disaster response efforts, our commitment to maintaining the nation’s blood supply has also forged on during the pandemic; it’s been an uphill battle. Since March 1, more than 150 blood drives have been canceled within our region, resulting in more than 4,770 fewer blood donations. Considering someone in the U.S. needs blood every two seconds, any dip in the procurement of blood is a cause for concern.

Monroe Carell Jr Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, Nashville, Tennessee 2019

Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.

The Red Cross responded and launched a major communications campaign to promote the urgent need for blood. Additional precautions were also implemented at all blood drives: temperature checks for all donors and staff, extra spacing between donor beds where possible, and all beds thoroughly cleaned after every donation. As often happens during times of crisis, humanity shone bright and the country rallied to the call for blood donations. Over the past three weeks, the Red Cross has added more than 2,100 projected donations back through mobile blood drive opportunities – and new blood drives continue to be added every day. Those who currently have an upcoming blood donation appointment are encouraged to keep them, and everyone who is eligible to give blood is asked to make a donation appointment for the weeks ahead to ensure a stable blood supply.

Progress in the Battle Against COVID-19
The FDA announced a recent development in the fight against COVID-19 focusing on patients who’ve recovered from the virus – specifically, the antibodies in their blood. These antibodies are a promising treatment and potential pathway to a vaccine. The Red Cross is supportive of the FDA’s effort and committed to assisting with plasma collection from carefully screened and recovered COVID-19 patients. A process to identify and qualify potential plasma donors is underway; individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 and are healthy are asked to visit to submit their contact information and answer eligibility questions. The Red Cross will follow-up with prospective candidates to confirm eligibility and participation.

Helping Our Heroes
In the face of emergencies like COVID-19, the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) continues to support our military, veterans and their families both here in the U.S. and overseas. Emergency communications, information and referrals, access to financial assistance, and family follow-up services are just a few of the many services provided to active military, veterans and their families by our caseworkers. Since March 1, 2020, SAF Caseworkers have assisted 95 military service members and their families with their emergency situations.

Armed Forces 2011

Despite the COVID-19 outbreak, Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) services are still available.

While non-mission-essential personnel are prohibited from entering Military Treatment Facilities (e.g., Travis Air Force Base David Grant Medical Center, U.S. Army Presidio of Monterey), professional medical Red Cross volunteers continue to provide vital services. Kathleen Lenihan, Red Cross Representative to the San Francisco VA, has undertaken delivering hundreds of comfort kits to the San Francisco VA Health Care System outpatient clinics, such as the Downtown San Francisco VA, where at-risk or homeless veterans count on the VA for basic hygiene items. The Red Cross is also ensuring that service members at the Presidio of Monterey have the essentials as they self-isolate on base. Elsewhere within our region, the Red Cross delivered comfort and hygiene kits for nearly 250 veterans at the Veterans Transition Center in Seaside and other partner organizations.

While SAF’s in-person classes and workshops have been temporarily placed on hold, our personnel are working to bring some of our resiliency workshops online.

Meeting the Need at Home and Abroad
The Red Cross has reconnected families through its Restoring Family Links (RFL) program for more than 100 years, and we continue to do so at the local level during the COVID-19 crisis. Regional RFL Lead, Christine Medeiros, has led and coordinated casework for families connected to countries like Austria, Cameroon, Cuba, Ethiopia, Mexico, and Tanzania this past month alone.

The Red Cross also organized and conducted a virtual Youth Action Campaign (YAC) training for 21 youth advocates from four teams: East Bay/ Oakland Chapter Team, West Bay/ San Francisco Chapter Team, Mountain View – Los Altos (MVLA) District Team, and Evergreen Valley High School Team. These trainings were initially an in-person format, but thanks to an intrepid volunteer, this training was one of the first to launch online. Our region is working with our National Headquarters to bring some of our International Humanitarian Law workshops online.

Lifesaving Training Continues
During a time when we’re relying on our healthcare workers and first responders more than ever, the Red Cross continues to offer essential courses such as resuscitation, CPR and first aid. These classes help medical professionals and other essential workers stay current on their certifications. The Red Cross has mandated social distancing approaches and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local public health guidance for all in-person classes during this time.

CPR Stock Photography 2018

Lifesaving training classes continue for first responders and essential workers.

Simple Steps to Flatten the Curve
All Red Cross personnel are helping to flatten the curve by practicing social distancing, staying home as much as possible, frequent hand washing, and taking other precautions to stay healthy and encourage everyone to do likewise. Nearly 100 people have been trained in a new, virtual Be Red Cross Ready class, launched earlier this month and completely free to our communities.

We are working to both understand and mitigate any potential risks system-wide. We have implemented teleworking wherever possible. We are ensuring social distancing in our efforts to help people and we are making sure that we support for our workforce with disaster mental health and health services. Since March 18th, our volunteers have taken 1,385 online and virtual disaster preparedness and response training courses totaling 886 training hours. Taking care of ourselves so that we can take care of others has been – and continues to be – a top priority.

The Red Cross remains a beacon of hope, and despite a global pandemic, our mission will never change. We will be there to answer the call – always. Your support makes that possible, and we appreciate your generosity during this unpredictable time. On behalf of the Red Cross and everyone we serve, thank you.

For more information on our efforts during the COVID-19 outbreak, and to donate online, please visit