The Pandemic Will Continue Without Strong Government and Philanthropic Support

Early last year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention activated its Emergency Operations Center to respond to the outbreak caused by a novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China. The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and will get worse before it gets better, but it’s important to understand we will not end the pandemic without sustained government funding working in tandem with robust philanthropic support.

Philanthropy and private donations are crucial during emergencies due to the speed and flexibility that those resources can be deployed to meet critical needs. Looking back over the past year, there’s no question that philanthropy, the private sector and individuals have answered the call to bolster and extend the COVID-19 emergency response. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy and its partner at Candid report donations have surpassed more than $20 billion as of Jan. 6, 2021.

McKinsey and Company reported that the philanthropic response to COVID-19 has shown the sector at its best. In this response, philanthropy has reduced the burden on grantees, accelerated the pace and volume of giving, partnered with other donors, invested in local communities with a focus on communities of color and supported the public sector. Public-private partnerships have also been at their best during the pandemic. These partnerships have allowed each organization to focus on their core capabilities, and our society has benefited with the development of vaccines in record time, new data systems and creative locations for the public to receive vaccinations, such as Disneyland or sporting arenas.

Looking back to last January, nobody expected to see over 25 million cases and more than 400,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States, but we knew the world was facing a very challenging public health crisis. We did not expect to witness a year where basic public health guidance would be ignored by so many and where public health officials would receive threats for providing the public fact-based actions to protect themselves and their loved ones. However, we knew our health departments were chronically under-resourced.

We did not expect other countries to perform so much better than the United States. But, we knew other countries looked to CDC as the premier public health agency in the world and had learned how to detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks from the agency. We did not expect to see so many people lose jobs and businesses close, but we knew that both individual and community health is inextricably connected to the economy. We did not expect there to be such wide variation in how states would respond. But we knew communities of color would likely bear a particularly heavy burden of economic, social and health effects because of structural issues that result in a myriad of health inequities.

In January, President Joe Biden released his administration’s COVID-19 vaccination plan for giving 100 million vaccines in the first 100 days in office. He is asking Congress for a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. Chief of staff Ron Klain sent a memo to White House senior staff outlining actions in the first 10 days that will change the course of COVID-19, combat climate change, promote racial equity and support other underserved communities, and rebuild our economy. If approved, this package represents bold action and a significant investment across all levels of government.

While government support is essential to stopping the pandemic, philanthropic support is critical to a strong and sustainable recovery. Within the past year, we witnessed how philanthropic support can have real impact, from providing personal protective equipment for frontline workers to ensuring food and assistance for those suffering the pandemic’s economic consequences to advancing research and treatments for COVID-19. Support from philanthropy and the private sector is also playing a crucial role in addressing structural issues that cause health and other inequities in our nation that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light.

Looking ahead this year, philanthropy, the private sector and individuals need to continue to show their best. They can do so by committing resources and coming alongside government in the quest to fight the daunting threats to our health and economy as well as building a resilient and equitable public health system that our country deserves and that our lives and livelihoods depend on.


Judy Monroe, MD, is president and CEO of the CDC Foundation, which has assembled a large number of donors and partners to support the public health response to COVID-19.

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