Our nation’s diplomats are serving on the front lines of the global COVID-19 pandemic as international first responders, as they have for 200 years. Their priority is to protect American citizens abroad during crises and bring them home, or repatriate them, if needed. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo initiated the social media hashtag #AmericansHome to signal his support for these heroic behind-the-scenes efforts. As of May 6, the State Department has repatriated more than 80,000 American citizens during the pandemic.
Responding to a Crisis: Timeline of COVID-19 Response
December 31, 2019: The U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan, China convenes an Emergency Action Committee to discuss the rumored outbreak of a respiratory illness.
January 7, 2020: The U.S. Mission in China issues a Health Alert about a pneumonia outbreak of unknown cause in Wuhan.
January 11, 2020: Chinese media announce first death from the virus.
January 23, 2020: The State Department upgrades the Travel Advisory to Level 4 for Wuhan and Hubei province.
January 24, 2020: The State Department establishes a Task Force to manage the evacuation of official and private American citizens from Wuhan.
January 28, 2020: The first evacuation charter flight departs Wuhan.
January 28, 2020: Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun begins chairing daily meetings to coordinate the Department’s response to the outbreak. Consulate General Wuhan temporarily suspends operations.
January 29, 2020: President Trump announces the formation of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force. Deputy Secretary Biegun is named as State lead.
January 30, 2020: The World Health Organization (WHO) declares the coronavirus outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”
January 31, 2020: The State Department issues a Level 4 Travel Advisory for all of China.
February 4-6, 2020: Working with NGO Project Hope, the State Department delivers 35,000 pounds of donated medical supplies to Hubei Province, China. Donations were supplied by Samaritan’s Purse, Boeing, and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
February 6, 2020: The fourth and fifth charter flights depart Wuhan. As of this date 1072 U.S. citizens and family members have been evacuated, along with 63 Canadian citizens.
February 13, 2020: The State Department transitions the Wuhan Evacuation Task Force to the Coronavirus Global Response Coordination Unit.
February 16, 2020: After extensive interagency coordination led by U.S. Mission Japan, two charter flights depart Tokyo with a total of 318 passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
February 20: The State Department begins issuing travel advisories for countries beyond China.
March 2, 2020: U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announces it will invest $37 million for coronavirus response in 26 countries.
March 8, 2020: The State Department issues a travel advisory stating U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health issues, should not travel by cruise ship.
March 10, 2020: To exercise caution, the State Department issues a telework first policy. Most State Department employees, including Task Force members, move to virtual status.
March 11, 2020: The WHO declares the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak a “pandemic.” The State Department issues a Global Health Advisory, urging U.S. citizens to reconsider travel abroad.
March 13, 2020: President Trump signs the Proclamation on Declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak.
March 19, 2020: The State Department issues a Global Level 4 Health Advisory, advising U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the impact of COVID-19. The State Department Repatriation Task Force is instituted to coordinate global efforts.
March 30, 2020: The Department plans 126 repatriation flights for 9,299 U.S. citizens over the next nine days.
March 31, 2020: President Trump praises the repatriation efforts of the Department of State.
April 2, 2020: Global cases of COVID-19 exceed 1,000,000.
April 6, 2020: The number of U.S. citizens repatriated surpasses 44,000. The Department’s Economic Bureau supports colleagues in the field by arranging “commercial rescue” flights to bring Americans home.
April 13, 2020: The number of U.S. citizens repatriated surpasses 61,000 individuals.
April 15, 2020: Global cases of COVID-19 exceed 2,000,000. Since March, the State Department addressed over 5,600 Congressional inquiries regarding constituents abroad.
April 27, 2020: Global cases of COVID-19 exceed 3,000,000.
May 6, 2020: Since the first flight from Wuhan on January 28, the State Department has brought home more than 80,000 U.S. citizens on 872 flights from 133 countries.
American citizens board a Brazzaville-Kinshasa boat shuttle bound for a repatriation flight in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo.
The United States has a long history of working with partners on the African continent to address public health challenges. These partnerships were instrumental as the State Department worked with African governments, airlines, and others to help repatriate over 10,000 Americans from African countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Europe and Eurasia Region:
After the outbreak in Asia and aboard cruise ships, mainland Europe quickly became the hotspot for COVID-19. Unlike other global regions, European countries did not shut down their borders, and Americans were able to return home on commercial flights; often with assistance from U.S. embassy staff who notified them when flights were available. Also, thousands of Americans who live in Europe chose to shelter in place.
Consul General Jennifer Rasamimanana, center, and staff from the U.S. Consulate Casablanca at Mohammed V International Airport after the last of the 205 passengers boarded a repatriation flight back to the United States on April 10. Photo courtesy of U.S. Consulate General Casablanca, Morocco
Near East Region:
When Travel Ends
State Department officials across the Near East Region scrambled to ensure as many Americans who wanted to return home could. In Morocco, one of the first countries to close its borders, the U.S. Mission organized 13 evacuation flights and returned over 2000 #AmericansHome.
South Central Asia Region:
Covering A Vast Territory
The Department of State has organized dozens of repatriation flights from South and Central Asia, including special flights home for over 3,100 U.S. citizens located in cities and villages spread across vast and often remote areas, some in lockdown conditions.
After Consulate Wuhan’s American employees evacuated the city, eight locally employed staff members risked their health by volunteering to run departure operations for four subsequent evacuation flights. Photo courtesy of Jaime Fouss
East Asia and Pacific Region:
When A Virus Hits
In response to rumors about the outbreak of an unusual respiratory illness, Wuhan Consul General Jamie Fouss formed the Wuhan Emergency Action Committee in late December 2019. Within seven days, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing issued a Health Alert about a pneumonia outbreak of unknown origin in Wuhan.
Western Hemisphere Region:
All Hands on Deck
Over half of the American citizens repatriated during the COVID-19 pandemic have been from the Western Hemisphere. Many needed U.S. Government assistance to be transported from remote locations to international airports. From islands in the Caribbean to remote lakes in Honduras or isolated villages in the Amazon, no location was too unreachable when Americans’ well-being was on the line.
“The Guardians” are a group of specially skilled Department of State personnel who manage logistics for medical evacuations and repatriation flights. Here, two members of The Guardians prepare to assist passengers on this repatriation mission to Brazzaville and Yaoundé. Photo courtesy of NMAD
Operational Medicine in Action:
A Deliberate and Careful Mission
The Directorate of Operational Medicine (Op Med) at the Department of State manages repatriation flights to bring Americans home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with private sector partners, Op Med carefully protects both passengers and crew from potential exposure leading up to and during each flight. This is how one story unfolded on a mission to Brazzaville and Yaoundé April 23-25, 2020.
Educational and Cultural Affairs:
Bringing Home America’s Citizen Diplomats
Each year, thousands of American exchange participants travel abroad on educational and cultural exchanges funded by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and privately-sponsored programs. As citizen diplomats, these Americans gain insight into other countries and cultures and share U.S. culture and values abroad, laying a foundation for mutual understanding. The wellbeing of exchange participants is ECA’s top priority and they have facilitated the safe return of more than 3,500 Americans during the pandemic.