From the Field

What is coronavirus? Facts, symptoms, and how to help

A South Sudanese woman gets a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine as part of a World Vision program to help vulnerable rural families stay healthy.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause the common cold or more severe diseases such as the coronavirus disease COVID-19, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has sickened more than 661 million people and claimed the lives of more than 6.6 million, according to John Hopkins University. The United States has the world’s largest number of cases — over 100 million — and more than 1 million deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says a version of omicron, the BA.5 subvariant, now makes up a majority of U.S. cases and is causing most new spikes in new infections worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic has reversed years of progress in the fight against extreme poverty, and it’s jeopardized the future of a generation of children.

Worldwide, World Vision is working diligently in all its program areas to keep all children safe from the secondary effects of the disease, like hunger and extreme poverty. We’re grateful for the generosity of our donors as we have served over 81 million people, including more than 35 million children, in over 70 countries, including the United States.

FAQs: Facts about the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19

Find answers to frequently asked questions about the coronavirus, facts about the coronavirus disease COVID-19, and how World Vision is responding to the pandemic.

Fast facts: Coronavirus and COVID-19

  • The coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, was first identified on December 31, 2019.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020. The WHO later declared a pandemic, meaning it is spreading globally, on March 11, 2020.
  • COVID-19 is the first pandemic since the 2009 swine flu (H1N1) pandemic. Unlike COVID-19, H1N1 mostly affected children and young adults.
  • In less than two years, 100 million more children have fallen into poverty, a 10% increase since 2019.
  • More than 90% of the global student population has been affected by coronavirus-related school closures. And only 12% of households in least developed countries have internet access at home.
  • More than 13 billion vaccine doses have been administered around the world, including in the United States, as of December 22, 2022.


World Vision is working to limit the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the pandemic’s impacts on vulnerable children and their families worldwide
A young girl wears a cloth mask during the coronavirus pandemic in Chennai, India, where World Vision is helping communities prevent and fight COVID-19. (©2021 World Vision/photo by Luke Aslaksan)

What is coronavirus? How does it spread?

  • Coronaviruses are a family of viruses, some of which can infect people and animals, named for crownlike spikes on their surfaces.
  • A novel coronavirus is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses named the 2019 novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. While it may have been in animals for a while, it was first discovered in humans in late 2019. The current infectious disease is a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past. Commonly known as COVID-19, the “CO” stands for corona, “VI” for virus, and “D” for disease; “19” refers to 2019, the year in which it was discovered.
  • COVID-19 spreads primarily by person-to-person contact through respiratory droplets that become airborne when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks.


What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms of COVID-19 include respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Sometimes people experience chills and shaking, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, or a new loss of sense of taste or smell. In severe cases, COVID-19 can cause pneumonia and severe acute respiratory syndrome. People with chronic health conditions and the elderly are more likely than others to have a life-threatening case of the disease.

Track the latest risk levels in your community on the CDC’s website.


A man in a wheelchair washes his hands at a water point made accessible to people with disabilities in Vanuatu, where World Vision is working to help prevent and limit the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic.
A man in a wheelchair washes his hands at a World Vision-designed and supported water point made accessible for people with disabilities in Vanuatu, a country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. World Vision has provided inclusive facilities to vulnerable communities in efforts to prevent and limit the spread of COVID-19. Worldwide, more than 250,000 facilities, including handwashing facilities, clean drinking water systems, and community drainage structures have been established or maintained by World Vision during the coronavirus pandemic. (©2021 World Vision/photo by Mike Kaun)

How can I help people made more vulnerable by the coronavirus?

The coronavirus pandemic, like the recent epidemics of Zika and Ebola, has caused illness and death in many nations. Where children have been left without adequate care and support, many have been forced into desperate situations, including dropping out of school and resorting to working, begging, or other exploitative situations to survive. You can help people made more vulnerable by the coronavirus.

  • Pray: Lord, we come to You to intercede for Your precious children affected by the coronavirus disease and its effects. Bring comfort and healing to all who are suffering, and peace to family members and friends of people affected over the last two years.
  • Give: Your donation to World Vision will help equip the people we serve to keep themselves healthy and reduce the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable children and their families in the U.S. and abroad.


What do I need to know about coronavirus variants?

Viruses evolve over time as they spread and replicate. Some disappear. The CDC tracks and continues to monitor virus changes, called variants. The WHO also names notable variants after letters of the Greek alphabet.

These named variants seem to spread easier and quicker than other variants. When viruses mutate, most changes are not concerning. However, there’s concern from public health experts, like the CDC, that some variants will evolve to be more contagious, cause more serious illness, or evade the protection that vaccines provide.

According to the CDC, the omicron variant and its versions likely spread more easily than the original COVID-19 virus and have become the dominant strains in the U.S. Omicron also appears to be more contagious compared to the delta variant. The CDC expects that people can spread omicron even if they’re vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.

So far, studies suggest that the currently authorized vaccines provide better protection than going without the safeguards.


How is World Vision responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.?

World Vision is supplying Family Emergency Kits to vulnerable families from strategic locations throughout the U.S., including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and Seattle. Each kit includes nutritious food for a family of five for a week, as well as hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, first-aid antiseptic, paper products, and children’s games and school supplies.

Since March 2020 — the beginning of the pandemic — we’ve distributed 85,609 Family Emergency Kits, serving more than 318,000 children and adults through 51 church partners. In partnership with the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program, we distributed more than 3.6 million Fresh Food Boxes to nearly 14.3 million people across the U.S. through a network of over 1,300 churches between May 2020 and May 2021.

World Vision has also distributed more than 3 million items of personal protective equipment to healthcare systems, first responders, and schools across the U.S., including a distribution to the Navajo Nation.

Please consider donating today to help U.S. families who are struggling as a result of increases in the cost of food, gas, and other basics along with ongoing impacts from the pandemic.  


How is World Vision responding to the coronavirus pandemic worldwide?

World Vision’s COVID-19 response continues to be a priority in every country where we work. Our global response has four main objectives, with programs that are adapted based on context and local need: scaling up preventive measures to slow the spreadstrengthening healthcare systems and workerssupporting children impacted by the effects of the pandemic, and collaborating and advocating with partners to ensure that vulnerable children get the care they need.

We’re most concerned about countries where the health systems and monitoring are weak; where people may already be suffering from diseases that are common among the poor, such as malariatuberculosis, pneumonia, HIV and AIDS, and Ebola; or where severe malnutrition compromises immune systems.

As of April 2022, World Vision had supported more than 81 million people to stay safe during the pandemic with supplies and information about how to protect themselves from COVID-19, including handwashing, social distancing, mask usage, hygiene practices, and vaccines. Response highlights:

  • Partnered with more than 207,000 faith leaders to ensure vulnerable families have information on COVID-19 prevention and care and vaccines.
  • Distributed about 12 million supplies, including handwashing materials, hygiene kits, and cleaning kits, to keep communities safe.
  • Established or maintained more than 287,000 facilities, like community handwashing stations, school toilets, household latrines with handwashing facilities, clean drinking water systems, and community drainage systems, to limit the spread of COVID-19.
  • Reached more than 47 million people with health interventions, including preventative behavior and vaccine messaging, safe quarantine and/or isolation spaces, and transportation support and services.
  • Trained 291,430 community health workers and frontline workers in COVID-19 prevention measures, including vaccines.
  • Aided more than 7.6 million people with educational materials, support, or training so children could keep learning during pandemic-related school closures.
  • Helped more than 12.4 million people in 64 countries with cash and vouchers or food assistance.
  • Supported over 1.9 million children with child protection activities.
  • Assisted more than 5 million people with psychosocial support or age-specific health information, education, and communication materials.
  • Equipped individuals and communities to recover and thrive during COVID-19 through VisionFund’s microfinancing, recovery loans, and savings groups.

Even as we’re committed to responding to immediate needs, helping people restore livelihoods and build back will require guaranteed access to coronavirus vaccines, tests, and treatments for everyone who needs them globally.


World Vision is working diligently to keep children safe from the indirect effects of the COVID-19 disease, like hunger and extreme poverty. Through our child sponsorship programs, we’re:

  1. Assessing local situations and responding in the most appropriate ways
  2. Training staff, community volunteers, and partners on preventing COVID-19 and accessing care and treatment
  3. Working with local health authorities and community organizations to spread accurate information about COVID-19, including the importance of vaccination when available, to families and communities

Current child sponsors: Learn four things you can do to help your sponsored child during the coronavirus pandemic.


What’s the latest update on COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots?

Drugmakers around the world raced to find safe and effective vaccines against the coronavirus disease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized four COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use during the coronavirus pandemic: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax. Pfizer-BioNTech received full FDA approval for individuals 16 years and older on August 23, 2021.

Booster shots refer to an extra dose of a vaccine after the original dose is administered. Boosters are developed to help people maintain their level of immunity for longer.

The availability of COVID-19 vaccines for vulnerable people globally will enormously benefit the hundreds of millions of children who’ve been negatively impacted by the pandemic, by giving them a lifeline to return to their childhoods. Vaccines are a game changer for children, as they allow kids to resume school and families to recover their livelihoods.

As a global and local staff, World Vision has extensive experience confronting pandemics, supporting vaccination programs, and improving child health. We’re working, alongside our partners, to implement immunization campaigns and ensure communities understand the benefits of a COVID-19 vaccination.


Why is the coronavirus worse than the flu?

Although the seasonal flu spreads globally like the coronavirus, the mortality rate for the flu is much lower and more people have immunity (either natural or via a flu vaccine). While both the flu and COVID-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses, they’re caused by different viruses. The flu is caused by infection with an influenza virus, while COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 is more infectious and often causes more serious illnesses, according to the CDC.


What’s the difference between an outbreak, epidemic, and pandemic?

When even one case of a contagious virus is diagnosed in a new location and determined to be locally transmitted, it’s an outbreak. When it spreads rapidly to many people, that’s an epidemic. A pandemic occurs when the virus begins to spread globally. The WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

What is a pandemic? According to the WHO, a pandemic can occur when three conditions have been met:

  1. A disease emerges that is new to the population.
  2. The virus infects humans, causing serious illness.
  3. The virus spreads easily and sustainably among humans. Most people will not have immunity to the virus.

The WHO is extremely careful about declaring a pandemic as it can create panic. However, such a declaration can also spur countries and individuals into action to do more to prevent the spread of the virus.

When the worldwide spread of COVID-19 stops, the WHO is expected to officially announce the end of the pandemic. However, an official end to the pandemic doesn’t mean an end to further threats of infection.


Coronavirus and COVID-19 timeline

December 2019

  • December 31: In Wuhan, China, reports surface of people with pneumonia due to an unknown cause. Between December 31 and January 3, national authorities in China report 44 cases to the World Health Organization (WHO).

January 2020

  • January 9: The first confirmed death from the outbreak occurs.
  • January 11: The National Health Commission in China informs the WHO that the outbreak is linked to exposure to the seafood and live animal market in Wuhan. Meanwhile, Chinese authorities identify a novel (new) coronavirus.
  • January 12: Chinese health officials share the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus for countries to use in developing specific diagnostic kits.
  • January 21: The WHO confirms 314 cases of the new coronavirus, 309 of which are in China. Other countries reporting cases include Thailand, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. The CDC confirms the first case in the United States — a person in Washington state who returned from Wuhan on January 15. The death toll rises to six. Many people affected have underlying health issues, according to Reuters.
  • January 24: Reported cases around the world increase to 846, with 830 in China. Singapore and Viet Nam report their first cases, and a second case is identified in the U.S. — a person who lives in Illinois and recently visited Wuhan. The death toll increases to 25.
  • January 25: The WHO confirms 1,320 cases globally. Australia, Nepal, and France report their first cases. A third U.S. case is identified in Orange County, California — a person who had recently traveled to Wuhan. Forty-one people have died so far, all in China.
  • January 28: Global cases jump to 4,593, with 4,537 in China. The death toll increases to 106, and three more countries — Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Germany — report cases.
    • An airliner with about 210 U.S. citizens, mostly consulate personnel and their families, leave Wuhan for the United States. CDC officials recommend avoiding all travel to China and expand airport health screenings to 20 U.S. locations.
    • Scientists in Australia become the first to recreate the new coronavirus outside of China.
  • January 30: The global case total jumps to 7,818, with China accounting for 7,736. Outside of China, 82 cases have been identified in 18 different countries. The WHO reports cases in Malaysia, the Philippines, India, and Finland. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte confirms Italy has its first two cases during a press conference.
    • The CDC confirms the first human-to-human transmission in the United States.
    • U.S. President Donald J. Trump announces the formation of a coronavirus task force to lead America’s response to the outbreak.
    • The WHO emergency committee makes a nearly unanimous decision to declare a public health emergency of international concern.

February 2020

March 2020

  • March 11: The WHO declares COVID-19 a pandemic.
  • March 12: The global case total passes 128,000 people, with the death toll now at over 4,700 people.
  • March 16: Coronavirus vaccine testing begins in the U.S. Even if the research goes well, a vaccine wouldn’t be available for widespread use for 12 to 18 months, says Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
  • March 17: Coronavirus cases have now been identified in all 50 U.S. states.
  • March 26: The overall number of cases passes 550,000 worldwide, with more than 175 countries reportedly affected. The U.S. now leads the world in the number of confirmed cases.

April 2020

  • April 2: Cases worldwide top 1 million. More than 200,000 people in the U.S. have been infected.
  • April 11: Cases in the U.S. surpass 500,000.
  • April 27: Cases worldwide reach 3 million, with 185 countries now affected by the pandemic.

May 2020

  • May 9: Cases worldwide top 4 million.

July 2020

  • July 8: Globally, the coronavirus has infected more than 11.8 million. Cases in the U.S. surpass 3 million.
  • July 14: The CDC recommends Americans wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • July 22: Global cases exceed 15 million.
  • July 27: Phase III clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Moderna, begin in the United States.

August 2020

  • August 1: Mexico’s COVID-19 death toll becomes the third highest in the world. Mississippi records the highest COVID-19 positivity rate in the nation.
  • August 6: Africa’s cases surpass 1 million, with South Africa accounting for more than half.
  • August 10: Moderna and U.S. federal officials reach a deal to supply the United States with 100 million doses of Moderna’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine.
  • August 13: The WHO reports that the COVID-19 pandemic is costing the global economy over $375 billion per month, citing International Monetary Fund research.

September 2020

  • September 29: Global deaths surpass 1 million. Deaths from coronavirus-related illnesses have doubled in just three months, led by fatalities in the U.S., Brazil, and India. The NFL reports its first COVID-19 outbreak.
  • September 30: The WHO announces nearly $1 billion to fight COVID-19 and to make sure poor countries receive treatments and vaccines against the disease.

October 2020

  • October 1: U.S. President Donald J. Trump and first lady Melania Trump test positive for COVID-19.
  • October 8: The White House COVID-19 outbreak reaches at least 34 people.
  • October 28: The U.S. announces it will provide no-cost access to the COVID-19 vaccine, once available, for all Americans.
  • October 29: WHO officials announce that Europe is again the epicenter of the pandemic.
  • October 30: Cases in the U.S. surpass 9 million.

November 2020

  • November 4: The United States passes 100,000 new daily COVID-19 cases for the first time.
  • November 17: New unemployment claims in the U.S. fall below 1 million for the first time since March.

December 2020

  • December 11: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues the first emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine to Pfizer-BioNTech.
  • December 14: The death toll in the United States surpasses 300,000. COVID-19 moves ahead of heart disease as the leading cause of death in the nation.
  • December 18: The FDA authorizes Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in the U.S. 
  • December 20: Several European countries impose travel restrictions after new coronavirus variants are identified there. The new variants begin to emerge in the U.S., with the first case reported in late December.
  • December 21: The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved by the European Union.

January 2021

  • January 14: A WHO team of scientists arrive in Wuhan, as China ramps up efforts to contain a resurgence of COVID-19 infections in China’s northeast.
  • January 19: The U.S. surpasses 400,000 coronavirus–related deaths.

February 2021

  • February 22: The U.S. passes 500,000 coronavirus–related deaths.
  • February 26: The United States administers 70.5 million COVID-19 vaccines.
  • February 27: The FDA authorizes the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for emergency use in the U.S.

March 2021

  • March 11: Brazil’s intensive care units surpass 90% capacity in 15 capitals as the pandemic flares up. Researchers in Brazil identify two cases of simultaneous infection with two different coronavirus variants.
  • March 17: The European Union unveils its plans for vaccine passports, while the United Kingdom considers a vaccine passport option for summer travel.

April 2021

  • April 23: The FDA announces its first full approval of a COVID-19 vaccine, produced by Pfizer-BioNTech.

May 2021

  • May 7: India is experiencing a deadly second wave of COVID-19 infections. The world’s second-most populous country records 414,188 new cases in one day — a record high.
  • May 10: The FDA approves Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccination for children as young as 12.
  • May 12: The Red Cross warns that cases are exploding across Asia with more than 5.9 million new confirmed infections in the past two weeks. India’s death toll surpasses 250,000.
  • May 13: The CDC announces that fully vaccinated Americans do not need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors or follow physical distancing guidelines. Guidelines will still apply for travel and public transit.

June 2021

  • June 10: Over 172 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CDC. More than 873 million people worldwide have received at least one dose, according to the WHO.
  • June 19: Brazil reports a total of more than 500,000 deaths from COVID-19, the world’s second-highest confirmed death toll.

July 2021

  • July 15: Coronavirus–related deaths rise sharply in Africa, where countries face shortages in oxygen and intensive care beds. The number of deaths rise more than 40% this week, reaching 6,273 — nearly 1,900 more than the week before.
  • July 17: The first case of COVID-19 is detected in Tokyo’s Olympic village.
  • July 29: President Joe Biden calls on school districts to host pop-up clinics in order to vaccinate more children 12 and older against COVID-19 as worries intensify that the upcoming school year will be interrupted by the delta variant. The CDC describes the delta variant as being as transmissible as chickenpox.

August 2021

September 2021

October 2021

  • October 20: The FDA recommends a Moderna booster for people age 65 and older and the immunocompromised.
  • October 29: The FDA approves the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children ages 5 to 11.

November 2021

  • November 1: The global death toll surpasses 5 million.
  • November 2: The CDC recommends pediatric COVID-19 vaccines for children 5 to 11.
  • November 19: The FDA authorizes booster shots of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for everyone 18 and older.
  • November 26: WHO officials classify omicron as a SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern.

December 2021

  • December 27: The CDC shortens recommended COVID-19 isolation period to five days.

January 2022

  • January 3: The FDA authorizes booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 12 to 15.
  • January 5: The United States joins Brazil, Hungary, Israel, Italy, and the Philippines in reporting cases of “flurona,” or COVID-19 and Influenza coinfection.

February 2022

  • February 15: The Pan-American Health Organization delivers 100 million vaccines to Latin America and the Caribbean via COVAX.
  • February 18: The U.S. announces increased vaccine assistance to 11 African countries through its new Initiative for Global Vaccine Access.

March 2022

  • March 20: The CDC reports a surge in U.S. hospitalizations of young children with COVID-19 during omicron wave.
  • March 24: The WHO identifies the omicron BA.2 “stealth variant” as the dominant strain of omicron worldwide, making up a majority of cases.

April 2022

  • April 13: The CDC extends mask requirements, set to expire April 18, to allow more time to study omicron subvariants circulating in the U.S.
  • April 18: A federal judge in Florida voids the federal government’s nationwide mask order for public transit, commercial flights, and transportation hubs such as airports and train stations.

July 2022


Heather Klinger, Kristy J. O’Hara-Glaspie, and Sevil Omer of World Vision’s U.S. staff contributed to this article.

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