Monthly Archives: October 2020

By Sam Antenucci

Flu Safety Tips from the American Red Cross: 

Handle your own belongings

Wash your hands often with soap and water

Carry hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes with you

What’s the biggest health story of 2020? That’s an easy one. COVID-19 has overstayed its welcome, and it’s stubbornly sticking around. But guess what? Here comes fall and winter, and another health hazard looms on the horizon: seasonal influenza. Sure, flu viruses circulate every year, but it’s important to understand that you can contract COVID-19 and flu at the same time. So it’s especially important to take proper precautions to enjoy a healthy season this year.

The single most important protective step you can take now—before flu season is in full swing—is to make sure you’re vaccinated. Each year, a unique flu vaccine is developed by researchers and virologists after months of surveillance data review. They select the three or four viruses most likely to spread and among people during the coming season. Flu viruses are constantly changing, so the vaccine must also change annually.

The flu vaccine cannot cause flu. The vaccine itself typically contains a killed version of the virus that is used to train your white blood cells to recognize the prevailing flu viruses and kill them before they get the chance to take over and infect your healthy cells.

The vaccine is overwhelmingly safe and highly effective. It keeps millions of us out of bed each year. The CDC estimates that during 2018-2019, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 4.4 million illnesses, 2.3 million medical visits, 58,000 hospitalizations, and 3,500 deaths—all flu-related. And it’s especially important for kids to get the shot: Children ages 6 months up to their 5th birthday—even those who are healthy—are at high risk for serious flu complications simply because of their age.

With this in mind and the pandemic front and center, flu vaccination is critical—not only for your own health but also the health of the people you care about. The CDC recommends an annual flu shot for everyone 6 months of age and older, with rare exceptions. If you have severe, life-threatening allergies, or a condition that compromises your immune system, seek clearance from your doctor first.

Ways to Keep Flu at Bay
You can prevent the spread of influenza within your family and community by taking these small precautions:

• Wash your hands often; if soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, and mouth
• As always, maintain your social distancing practices. Wear a mask in public and keep at least six feet from others. If you’re feeling sick, stay home.

In addition to vaccination and safe hygiene practices, good health habits will fortify your body’s resistance to infection. A few tips:

• Turbocharge your diet with vegetables and nutrient-dense foods. (Need ideas? Check out these CDC Nutrition Guidelines.)
• Hydrate! Reach for a glass of water at regular intervals throughout the day.
• Try to maintain an exercise regimen—ideally, at least 30 minutes a day.
• Manage your stress. This is especially important during these unpredictable times. For some useful advice on stress management, see American Red Cross’s Coping with Stress.
• Get enough rest and sleep.

Flu Symptoms
If you’re feeling ill, you might wonder whether you have the flu or another condition that mimics seasonal influenza. The pandemic complicates that uncertainty, so it’s especially important to observe how you’re feeling. If you get a lot sicker, consider getting a COVID test. The CDC notes that many flu symptoms are also common with COVID-19. These include…

• Fever (though not in every flu case)
• Chills
• Cough
• Sore throat
• Runny or stuffy nose
• Muscle aches, body aches
• Headache
• Fatigue
• Vomiting and/or diarrhea (more common in children)

The difference between COVID-19 and Influenza
The flu symptoms listed above can range from mild to severe. COVID-19, on the other hand, may bring symptoms that are more severe and cause serious illness. One symptom unique to coronavirus is a loss of taste and smell. If at any point your symptoms intensify and impact your ability to breathe, call your doctor and get a COVID test.

Caring for Someone with the Flu
If you’re in a multi-person household and someone becomes sick with any of the symptoms listed above, designate one person to look after him or her. Keep everyone’s personal items separate. Avoid sharing utensils, towels, clothes, blankets, sheets, or food. When cleaning up any bodily fluids, wear disposable gloves.

To learn more about keeping yourself safe during the pandemic and flu season, download one or more of the free Red Cross mobile apps from the Apple App Store or Google Play. For descriptions, just go to, click on Get Help, and select Mobile Apps from the dropdown menu.

Keep the Faith!
Sure, 2020 has been a challenging year. The pandemic has caused stress and confusion for everyone. Don’t let it get the best of you! You are not alone. With sensible precautions, we can support one another and clear these hurdles together!

Lead Image description: A design with a mug, a box of tissues, some loose tissues, and a pair of glasses next to a red box with text that reads: Flu Safety Tips. Tips include – Handle your own belongings, Wash your hands often with soap and water, Carry hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes with you.

By: Huanjia Zhang  

The first time Janice Thomas went on a national deployment for the American Red Cross, she arrived by a Blackhawk helicopter with the National Guard. The mission was to respond to a storm in North Carolina, where the roads were severely flooded that she could not reach the Red Cross location otherwise. That Blackhawk adventure was the beginning of her relationship with Red Cross. 

Since then Thomas has continued to respond to all types of disasters, from home fires to hurricanes, to help people start the process of rebuilding their lives. Just this past summer, Thomas volunteered for two multi-week virtual assignments assisting in the Red Cross recovery operation following Hurricane Laura. That’s in addition to coordinating Red Cross responses  and supervising shelters after major events in Southeastern Pennsylvania, including the responses to Hurricane Isaias and a large apartment fire in Chester County.   

Janice Thomas dove straight into coordinating a large local response after an apartment building in Chester County went up in flames in July of 2020.

“I have an app on my phone that if I hear the fire engines in my town, I always go to it to see is it a big fire,” Thomas said. “I always have my bag ready to go.” 

A 13-year volunteer emergency medical technician, Thomas has always been active on the emergency frontline whenever and wherever people need help. That’s why when she saw an ad from the Red Cross recruiting disaster-response workforce four years ago, she did not hesitate to join.  

Thomas is now the regional Mass Care Lead for the Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Region. Her responsibilities include coordinating the resources from the regional shelter lead, the regional feeding lead, the regional distribution of emergency supply lead, and the reunification lead. When disasters strike, she coordinates those resources to  maximize support for people impacted.   

Thomas takes her responsibilities at the Red Cross seriously, and knows how much the small details can mean to families forced out of their homes unexpectedly. For example, she makes sure her team includes diapers in their response plans because families might not have time to grab them if they’re evacuating quickly. 

 “It is the little things like that that we’re just trying to improve all the time,” she said.  

Thomas plans to volunteer for the Red Cross for as long as she can. Her next goal is to become a shelter manager, where she aspires to provide comfort to people who are potentially having the worst day of their life. Adding, “It is rewarding to know that you’re helping people when their life might be at its lowest point.” 

By: Sophie Kluthe

Cathy Jensen has been a Red Cross volunteer for about six years, providing care and comfort to people immediately following a disaster in her Disaster Spiritual Care role. That’s why this spring, when the Red Cross formed a Virtual Family Assistance Center to support families struggling with loss and grief due to the Coronavirus pandemic, she knew it was the perfect fit.  

“This program has special meaning to me as someone who has recovered from the COVID-19 virus. I have felt the personal grief this virus can cause. I am truly lucky to be alive, and I want to help alleviate others suffering due to this virus and let them know they are not alone. Along with all American Red Cross workers, I am here to provide comfort and care to those in need,” Jensen said.  

Cathy Jensen serves on a team of specially trained Red Cross mental health, spiritual care and health services volunteers from across the country. *Photo taken prior to COVID-19 pandemic.

Many families have experienced a disrupted bereavement and grief process due to restrictions related to COVID-19. Jensen, who lives in Philadelphia, is part of the team of specially trained Red Cross mental health, spiritual care and health services volunteers from across the country who are assigned to the Virtual Family Assistance Center. Outside of the Red Cross Jensen is a professional chaplain endorsed by Penn Presbyterian Medical Center where she currently works as a trauma chaplain.

“Disaster Spiritual Care seeks to rebuild spiritual hope and confidence in the lives of those affected by loss and devastation by providing compassionate and attentive listening, a calming presence, and additional resources that foster healing and recovery,” she said.

For months Jensen and the rest of the virtual team have been connecting with families over the phone to offer condolences, support and access to resources that may be available, providing support for virtual memorial services for families, including connecting with local faith-based community partners, hosting online classes to foster resilience and facilitate coping skills. They have also focused on sharing information and referrals to state and local agencies as well as other community organizations including legal resources for estate, custody, immigration or other issues.

“This is an incredibly difficult time for everyone, but especially for those who have lost a loved one due to COVID-19,” said Guy J. Triano, CEO of the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Region. “Not only have these families experienced the unexpected passing of a loved one, but they are also facing additional challenges caused by this public health emergency. We want them to know that the Red Cross is here to provide compassion and support as they grieve.” 

People can visit to access a support hub with special virtual programs, information, referrals and services to support families in need. There is even a page within the site specifically dedicated to resources in Pennsylvania: The hub will also connect people to other community resources and other partners. People without internet access can call 833-492-0094 for helpAll Family Assistance Center support will be provided virtually and is completely confidential and free. 

By: Sophie Kluthe

As the leaves began to change and temperatures cooled, the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania was busy with nearly 20 regional workers assigned to major disasters like Hurricane Laura and the Western Wildfires, while still responding to the nation’s most frequent disaster, home fires. 

Just in the first quarter of the organization’s fiscal year, (July-September) trained Red Cross disaster workers assisted with nearly 300 local disasters, mostly home fires in Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties. Hurricane Isaias also thrashed the region during this time period, leaving hundreds of people displaced by major flooding in August. In total, disaster workers provided emergency support in the form of temporary lodging and other immediate assistance to almost 1,500 residents impacted by disaster.  

SEPA Red Cross disaster workers coordinate a snack delivery for displaced residents at one of the hotel shelters in Philadelphia after Hurricane Isaias.

While our dedicated local response teams continued to support our communities here in Southeastern Pennsylvania, many also raised their hand and packed their bags to help in major disasters around the country in what has been a record-setting year so far for Red Cross emergency sheltering.

From July to October 7, when this article was written, local Red Crossers have volunteered about 130 times to support these major responses, either on the ground or virtually, with some people volunteering for multiple operations. That includes the 81 regional workers who supported the major sheltering and recovery efforts in our own backyard after Hurricane Isaias. Other disasters workers from our region have supported include Tropical Storm Hannah in Texas, Hurricane Laura in Texas and Louisiana, and the numerous wildfires that have ravaged parts of California and Oregon, and more. 

A small portion of the dozens of local Red Cross disaster workers who have volunteered to support major disaster relief operation around the country.

Thank you to our incredible team of disaster workers for carrying out the Red Cross mission at home and across the country!  

By: Sophie Kluthe

As I got on my flight to Louisiana on September 10, I knew I was one of thousands of Red Crossers from all over the country with hopes of making a difference on the ground this Hurricane Season. With wildfires raging in the West, and hurricanes and tropical storms still brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, I was heading to part of the country that had just been thrashed by one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the U.S. 

Hurricane Laura made landfall on August 27, causing widespread devastation across east Texas and Louisiana. After two weeks in emergency shelters, some evacuees still didn’t have power at their homes, and many still had not been able to find out whether they still had a home to return to at all.  

It is one thing to see heartbreak play out across a screen. It’s another thing to feel it radiating off a person as they relay the terror they felt riding out the storm and emerging with nothing but a few personal effects. The destruction I saw first-hand in Lake Charles was eye opening. In some places, it felt like whole neighborhoods had blue roofs because of the tarps covering up damage on every home. In other places, you might be lucky to find a few scraps of twisted metal on the side of the road, which indicated someone’s home had once stood there.  

The entrance to one neighborhood in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Despite these challenges, I also experienced a sense of hope that somehow helped to balance out all the devastation. I spoke with dozens of people who had been displaced, their resiliency and optimism piercing through the cloud of uncertainty that so often hangs around after a disaster rolls through. One couple in particular exemplified this. They had evacuated their home before the hurricane, not willing to risk riding it out because they were expecting their first baby. A very pregnant Katie Gauthreaux and her significant other, Ezekiel Perkins, were staying in one of the shelters the Red Cross was operating at hotels in Baton Rouge. They said the hotel room plus three meals a day was “a blessing.”  

Katie Gauthreaux and Ezekiel Perkins pick up dinner from a Red Cross disaster worker.

Perkins added, “It takes a lot of weight off my shoulders because I know when he comes, my son will have a safe place to sleep. I don’t have to worry about that.”   

They had decided to start over in Baton Rouge. Perkins was using his days to job hunt and Gauthreaux got set up with a local doctor. Next, they planned to find a new place to live. They had a heathy baby boy in their arms during my second week there.  

Another sense of hopefulness came from meeting all the Red Cross workers, mostly volunteers, who had left home with two bags and a facemask to travel to Louisiana for two or more weeks. I met Nancy Jodoin at the Baton Rouge shelters. She’s a nurse from Massachusetts who took three weeks of her own vacation time to volunteer with the Red Cross. Not only did she tend to medical needs, but I also watched her deliver hope and a caring reassurance to so many people navigating the toughest days of their lives.  

Nancy Jodoin checks in on Lizzie Tyler at one of the Red Cross shelters.

Jodoin, like so many other Red Cross volunteers, went above and beyond to get to know the people she was serving and to form relationships so that she could help them on a deeper level. While she used her nursing skills, another Red Crosser I met was leaning on the skills he’d acquired in his 30-year career with the National Guard. Retiring as a colonel, Ed Bush had just left his old job with hopes of finding a new one that was also rewarding. Two months into his new role on the leadership team of the Louisiana Region of the Red Cross, he was in the thick of the recovery effort, acting as a liaison between the organization and local elected officials. He said he knew he made the right choice for this next phase of his career.  

Ed Bush kept an eye on developing storms as he worked out of the Red Cross command center in Lake Charles.

“You look to your left and to your right and the people you’re surrounded by are people of such character that you’re like, this is what I want to be a part of,” he said.  

While we’ve made a lot of progress in the Hurricane Laura relief effort, there’s still much more work to do. Today, some of those impacted are still in emergency lodgings, more than a month after Laura made landfall. On Thursday night, the Red Cross and our partners provided 11,700 people with safe refuge. Over the past several weeks in response to Hurricane Laura, the Red Cross and our partners have provided 595,800 total overnight stays in emergency lodgings, and 620 Red Crossers are still supporting disaster relief efforts on the ground or virtually.  

And that’s just the one disaster. When you look at the ongoing concurrent disaster response operations for Hurricane Laura, Hurricane Sally, and the Western Wildfires, the numbers are staggering. Over the past several weeks the Red Cross has provided 804,900 total overnight stays in emergency lodgings across multiple states: the most ever. We have served more than 2.1 million meals and snacks and distributed 279,100 relief items with the help of partners.  

I feel honored to have played a small role in it along with so many incredible colleagues and partners that help us deliver our mission. As I write this, more than 20 Red Cross workers form our Southeastern Pennsylvania region are supporting major recovery operations on the ground and virtually, with more people heading out next week. It’s been a challenging season so far, but it brings me comfort to know that the Red Cross is delivering real, tangible help to thousands of people displaced by disasters as well as the intangible aspects of hope and comfort that we bring to these communities, even if it’s from six feet of social distance.  

I was in awe of the generosity I saw from volunteers and donors. That included a Red Cross disaster vehicle donated by Louisiana native Britney Spears.

To learn more about the Red Cross, head to

By Judith Weeks

If you live in or around the city of Philadelphia, your evacuation plan may look something like this. | Design by the American Red Cross

Did you know that if a fire starts in your home you may have as little as two minutes to escape? Home fires claim seven lives a day in the U.S., but a new 2020 national Red Cross survey shows most of us aren’t taking the steps to protect ourselves.

Testing your smoke alarms each month helps ensure that they’re working — which can cut the risk of dying in a home fire by half. Still, the study shows 65% of us don’t. Practicing your escape plan twice a year also increases the odds of survival. But 70% of us don’t. Escaping in less than two minutes can be the difference between survival and tragedy, according to fire experts. Yet more than half of us think we have more time.

During a fire, early warning from a smoke alarm plus having a practiced escape plan in place can save lives. Smoke alarms should be placed on each floor and strategically located throughout your home. Each alarm should be tested once a month. Replace batteries at least once a year and check the manufacturer’s date of your smoke alarms. If they’re 10 years or older, they need to be replaced because the sensor becomes less sensitive over time. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

These two safety tips will protect your family in the event of a fire. | Design by the American Red Cross


• Include at least two ways to exit every room in your home. 

• Make a map showing the location of each exit using this template.

• Select a meeting spot at a safe distance away from your home, such as your neighbor’s home or landmark like a specific tree in your front yard, where everyone knows to meet.

• Teach children what a smoke alarm sounds like. Talk about fire safety and what to do in an emergency.

• Practice evacuation with all occupants, including caregivers and babysitters until everyone can get out in less than two minutes.

• If a smoke and fire alarm is activated, evacuate immediately.

Is an escape plan in your family’s playbook? We can help you make one! Design by the American Red Cross

Many row homes are old with few escape options. Consider all exit possibilities. Fire can quickly spread from one row house to another. If you see or smell smoke from your house or someone else’s, immediately evacuate. Once you and others are safely out of your home, knock on your neighbors’ doors to notify them of a fire.

Apartments, high rise buildings, and school dormitories are required to have an escape map posted on each floor with designated exits and reminder not to use the elevator. When moving a student into a dorm make sure the student knows where the escape map and exits are. If possible, practice an escape. This is probably an “aw Mom” moment but explaining the ‘why’ could save a life.

Even in a year filled with wildfires, hurricanes and other storms, home fires remain the most common disaster that the American Red Cross responds to. From July 1 through August 31, the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Region responded to 104 local emergencies, providing assistance for 443 families and 1,296 people in the five-county area.

For more home fire preparedness tips, head to our Home Fire Preparedness page.