When the world stopped, the Red Cross didn’t

Reflections on the response to the pandemic on the one-year anniversary

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

March 2020 would prove to be one of my most memorable volunteer months with the American Red Cross. Within weeks, the world began to see signs like this everywhere.

Everywhere, except at the Red Cross.

Let’s go back to March 1, 2020. This was the day the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the United States, in New York. By then, we had heard about the 400 Americans trapped on a ship in Japan, but we didn’t really consider that the virus was a U.S. problem at the time.

Two days later, everyone forgot about that story when multiple tornadoes ripped through central Tennessee, killing at least 25 people. I recall getting the call that morning and leaving immediately for Nashville to cover the details of the cleanup effort, the sheltering and feeding of hundreds of now homeless people and the mobilization of hundreds of truckloads of supplies.

As I drove home on March 10, New York Governor Cuomo had called on the National Guard to stop traffic around New Rochelle, where 108 cases had been discovered. COVID-19 was now a United States problem.

Just one day later, March 11, the WHO (World Health Organization) would declare this to be an official pandemic with more than 120,000 cases worldwide. That started a landslide of events, and before day’s end:

  • The NBA suspended the 2019-20 season until further notice
  • The NHL paused its 2019-20 season
  • The Dow Jones Industrial 30-day average plunged 20%, ending an 11-year bull market

But what didn’t come crashing to a stop…the Red Cross. 

That same day, President of the American Red Cross Gail McGovern, issued a long memo to all Red Cross volunteers.

In it, she detailed how we would be making all sorts of changes to our day-to-day operations, but what would not change, was our mission to deliver services to those in need.

Blood drives needed to be rescheduled as many businesses closed down, but the need for blood didn’t slow down. By finding larger venues where people could be scheduled and kept socially distanced, the flow of blood continued.

Fires and disasters didn’t stop, but our Humanitarian Services division devised new ways to house people in motels instead of congregate shelters, and our Disaster Action Teams learned to respond virtually using electronic funds transfers to get money quickly into the hands of those left homeless from fires and floods. 

As the rest of the world came to a virtual standstill one year ago today, the Red Cross quickly pivoted to maintain our services to those most in need. If you’d like to help, consider becoming a volunteer or make a contribution to the Red Cross to support our ongoing mission to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies. 

Edited by Glenda Bogar, Red Cross Volunteer

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