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United Way of Lancaster County


Responding to Covid: When the pandemic arrived, nonprofits transformed themselves

Collage - Covid 1 yr later

It all happened with bewildering speed. 

In December 2019, health officials in Wuhan, China, identified a dangerous novel coronavirus. A mere two months later, it was spreading worldwide like wildfire. On March 6, 2020, the first case in Pennsylvania was confirmed. 

Just 10 days later, on March 16, 2020 — a year ago this week — Gov. Tom Wolf extended a shutdown order, originally imposed on four counties around Philadelphia, to the entire state.  

Responding to Covid: A One United Lancaster series

One United Lancaster is publishing a series of articles on the coronavirus pandemic, its effect on the local nonprofit community and the ways organizations adapted. Links to each installment will be added here as they are posted.

The 12 months that followed have upended our lives as never before. Large swaths of the economy were put on hold, sending unemployment surging to record levels. White-collar employees began working from home. Schools closed. 

Hospitals and nursing homes scrambled to save coronavirus patients and to keep uninfected patients and their own employees safe. Virologists cracked Covid-19's genetic code within days and launched the most ambitious race for a vaccine in human history. 

A year on, the global death toll stands at 2.65 million. In Lancaster County, more than 45,000 individuals have been infected. Of those, 967 had died as of Sunday, according to the county coroner, the vast majority of whom were age 70 and up. 

The Vaccinate Lancaster coalition has just opened its mass vaccination center at Park City Center mall, bringing hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight. 

For Lancaster County's social-service nonprofits, the past year has been one of unprecedented challenges — leading to unprecedented innovation, cooperation and transformation. 

Food banks found new ways to feed the hungry. Daycares figured out how to keep children safe. Health care and counseling organizations found ways to care for patients via phone and video conference; to ensure they could see patients in person when they needed to, they redesigned their offices and retooled their methods and systems from top to bottom. 

One United Lancaster launched in April 2020. Over the past year, we've seen day by day how Lancaster County's nonprofits have risen to the challenges of the pandemic. 

Recently, we interviewed some of the nonprofit leaders who played key roles in Lancaster's pandemic response. We asked them about the past year, what lessons they learned, and how they see the next few months unfolding. 

Our first story appears today, followed by ones this Wednesday and Friday. We'll continue with additional stories next week. 

One common theme we heard: Simply returning to pre-pandemic "business as usual" isn't an option. 

For starters, too much has changed. But beyond that, the society in which the pandemic took hold a year ago was one marked by deep racial and economic inequities. It was a society that left many of its members struggling to earn a living, keep a roof over their heads, and maintain their dignity.

"We have to get out in front of these things as a society and as a community," said Sam Bressi, president and CEO of the Lancaster County Community Foundation. 

"We've got to keep doing that whether it's a crisis time or not."