Lindsay Cates Lindsay Cates
Senior Manager, Communications and Strategy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


March 11, 2021


One year ago, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic. At the time the United States had 987 cases and 29 deaths, coming from 38 states and the District of Columbia, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

On that day a flurry of news and information hit American workers and businesses all at once: President Donald Trump suspended travel from Europe, Italy closed all restaurants and shops, the NBA suspended its season, St. Patrick’s Day parades were being cancelled, the first Congressional staffer tested positive, and Washington D.C.’s mayor followed 23 other states in declaring a state of emergency.

Five days later, the number of reported cases in the U.S. was above 4,000, the White House announced “15 Days to Slow the Spread,” dozens of companies mandated employees work from home, and stock market indexes posted record-breaking losses.

Yet, in the face of the escalating global crisis and vast uncertainty, businesses stepped up.

This year, American businesses—large and small—became a fundamental part of helping our economy and communities adapt and recover from the pandemic.

Fighting the Disease

By March 18, 2020, Abbott received FDA authorization for its first COVID-19 test, and immediately deployed 150,000 tests to medical centers across the country. By the end of March 2020, the company scaled up production to make one million tests per week, and has now developed eight approved tests ranging from highly accurate lab-based tests to inexpensive at-home products.

Large manufacturing companies, seeing the situation escalate across the globe, began ramping up production of materials needed for personal protective equipment (PPE), hand sanitizer, and other critical medical supplies.

An engineering team at Stanley Black & Decker accelerated production to build fasteners for hospital beds, ventilators, and other products needed for field hospitals. As the months went on, the team also began producing the materials used in COVID-19 testing kits.

Dow forged full steam ahead on manufacturing the raw materials used to create disinfectants, IV bags, surgical masks, and disposal gloves, while at the same time dedicating five manufacturing plants to produce hand sanitizer. Running at full capacity, the sites produce more than 440,000 pounds of sanitizer (200 metric tons) per week, or the equivalent of more than 880,000 eight-ounce bottles.

In 2020, 3M manufactured 2 billion respirators globally—tripling production since 2019—and to keep up with the demand in the U.S. added new equipment, buildings, manufacturing lines, and jobs.

Pivoting to Support Communities

Small businesses across the country asked themselves what they could do to help and pivoted their operations to address critical needs and support their local communities.

By March 15, 2020, business was down nearly 80% at Compass Coffee, a Washington, D.C.-based coffee roaster, and the company had closed half of their 12 locations. But by that week the company had shifted its syrup bottling operation to make hand sanitizer and was producing and packaging about 2,400 bottles a day for local and national orders—a pivot that kept the business afloat and helped the community.

Near New Orleans, Louisiana, local health clinic InclusivCare pivoted a planned grand opening of a new pharmacy on March 9, 2020, to a drive-in COVID-19 Outreach Event to help educate the underserved community on how the virus spread, hand washing tips, and proper social distancing protocol.

“We didn't really know what would be the true impact at that time, but the one thing that we did know is that we had a community who was going to be needing resources,” said InclusivCare’s Chief Executive Officer Dr. Shondra Williams.

With nearly all public schools closed, Building Momentum, a small company in Alexandria, Virginia, started building collapsible desksfor any child in the community who didn’t have their own space at home for virtual schoolwork. Cleveland-based CLE Clothing Company provided over 4,600 meals for families with sales of a “We are all in this together” shirt. Looptworks, a small company in Portland, helped turn 12,000 excess pounds of United Airlines uniforms into 7,500 masks for United employees. And online organic grocer Thrive Market helped more than 31,000 families and 700 first responders get access to healthy groceries during the pandemic.

Countless other businesses used their unique knowledge, skillsets, and resources to do their part.

Boeing used its Dreamlifter cargo planes to transport over four million units of PPE helping states get the critical supplies they needed. Data and analytics company RELX launched a shared Novel Coronavirus Information Center so doctors, scientists, and nurses could freely access the latest journal articles and clinical insights. And Ford has donated more than 98 million medical-grade face masks as part of a commitment to donate 120 million face masks by mid-2021.

“Ford has been fighting COVID-19 and helping first responders and the public full force since March 2020,” said Kumar Galhotra, president, Americas & International Markets Group at Ford. “We will not stop until the job is done. As long as there is a way we can help, we are in.”

Giving Back

Philanthropic donations, grants, and investments from the business community have further fueled efforts to help Americans and the causes that need it most.

The restaurant industry has raised $21.5 million to award grants to more than 43,000 restaurant workers in need through the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund (RERF).

AmerisourceBergen Foundation donated more than $1 million in emergency grants for pandemic response efforts to more than 20 nonprofits, including nonprofit Americares, which is using grants to train more than 12,000 healthcare workers in COVID-specific mental health challenges.

U.S. Bank committed $30 million to support COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts, PepsiCo invested more than $60 million globally to help the most affected communities, and Uber pledged 10 million free rides and deliveries to healthcare workers, seniors, and people in need.

One Year Later

One year later, on March 11, 2021, the United States has reported more than 28 million cases and 526,000 deaths, according to CDC data. Through each grim milestone, businesses have not let up in being a force driving our recovery.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine received FDA emergency use authorization in December, followed closely by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. After months of preparation and close planning with healthcare companies and distributors, FedEx and UPS are delivering COVID-19 vaccines to dosing centers throughout the U.S., and sports stadiums and other venues are opening their spaces for mass vaccination sites.

Since vaccine distribution began in the U.S. on Dec. 14, more than 95.7 million doses have been administered, reaching 18.8% of the total U.S. population, according to CDC data. The U.S. is currently administering over 2.1 million shots a day.

And work has not let up in the scientific community in identifying additional COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.

Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer were among the more than 200 vaccine candidates in development. In the U.S., to date, scientists have conducted 1,140 clinical trials of potential coronavirus solutions in all 50 states, across approximately 96 percent of congressional districts. Pharmaceutical companies are on track to produce more than 14 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021 – enough to fully vaccinate nearly 80% of the global population.

Gilead partnered with 40 companies across North America, Europe, and Asia, to meet global demand for its FDA-approved Veklury® (remdesivir) treatment for COVID-19. Meanwhile, there are over 425 candidates in the pipeline for additional COVID-19 therapeutics globally.

Rally for Recovery

America's business community continues to play a critical role in combatting the pandemic. Now that safe and effective vaccines are available, businesses are rallying around a common goal: accelerate vaccinations, reopen safely, and defeat the pandemic.

Businesses across the country are continuing to follow CDC protocols for mask-wearing and social distancing, ready to reopen safely, and many companies, including Google, IBM, and Amazon, are encouraging employees to get vaccinated.

Instacart, Aldi, and Trader Joe’s, among others, are offering incentives for workers who get vaccinated, including bonuses, paid time off to get the vaccine, or flexible work schedules.

It’s been a challenging and unprecedented year, but through it all the business community has been a driving force for good. Hundreds of businesses have shared with us their stories of grit, ingenuity, and problem-solving, and businesses will continue to step up to fight the pandemic on all fronts.

About the authors

Lindsay Cates

Lindsay Cates

Lindsay is a senior manager on the communications and strategy team. She previously worked as a writer and editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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