This article was updated June 18, 2021 at 8:16 a.m.
On March 13, 2020, then-President Donald Trump declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency, making federal resources available to combat the spread of the virus available. This directed state governments to set up emergency operations centers, hospitals to activate emergency preparedness plans and allowed the health secretary to "waive provisions of applicable laws and regulations to give doctors, hospitals — all hospitals — and healthcare providers maximum flexibility to respond to the virus."
By then, COVID-19 had spread globally with 14,384 cases officially reported with many more undetected or underreported. No one imagined the ferocity of the virus, as global cases — as of now — have reached 118 million with an average of 370,000 new cases added daily.
Looking back a year ago, we could not have imagined how significantly COVID-19 would change our lives. We have watched it unfold day by day as we have lost family, friends, jobs and personal savings. With the rollout of vaccinations there is hope we are on the road to recovery, leading us to wonder: When will life return to normal and what will normal life look like?
This timeline puts into perspective the significance COVID-19 has had on society, the struggles we face to contend with a pandemic, and perhaps illuminates what we want a better future to be.
December 30, 2019
Chinese ophthalmologist Dr. Li Wenliang warns fellow doctors of a possible outbreak of a severe acute respiratory syndrome-like illness in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. Police order Wenliang to stop spreading "misinformation."
January 9, 2020
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that Chinese authorities have made "a preliminary determination that the outbreak is caused by a novel (or new) coronavirus identified in a patient hospitalized for pneumonia in Wuhan." Chinese authorities announce "the virus in question can cause severe illness in some patients, but does not transmit readily between people."
January 21, 2020
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms the first case of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus in the United States in the state of Washington. Authorities say the patient with the confirmed infection returned to the U.S. six days earlier from Wuhan. The CDC also reports that although the virus was initially thought to spread from animal to human, "there are growing indications that limited person-to-person spread is happening." Still, it's unclear how easily the virus spreads.
January 26, 2020
Health officials confirm the first two cases of the new coronavirus strain in Orange and Los Angeles counties. The patient in L.A. County had flown through Los Angeles International Airport on his way home to Wuhan. The virus affecting each person is the same strain as the one that has spread to more than 2,700 people in 14 countries and killed 80 people since its discovery in China.
Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant is killed along with eight other people, including one of his daughters, in a helicopter crash near a Calabasas hillside. He was 41.
January 31, 2020
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar II declares a public health emergency for the U.S. to help the healthcare community respond to the 2019 novel coronavirus. "While this virus poses a serious public health threat, the risk to the American public remains low at this time, and we are working to keep this risk low," Azar says.
February 1, 2020
An ill 80-year-old passenger who left the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Hong Kong five days earlier is diagnosed with the infection caused by the coronavirus. In days, 3,600 passengers and crew are forced to quarantine in their rooms. More than 700 people will become infected, and 14 will die.
February 2, 2020
Global air travel is restricted. The U.S. implements a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all American travelers from China. Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines suspend all fights to China.
February 6, 2020
Dr. Li Wenliang, the first to warn of the virus, dies after becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan, China. He was 33.
February 11, 2020
The WHO formally renames the infection caused by the coronavirus as COVID-19.
February 25, 2020
CDC officials say COVID-19 is heading toward worldwide pandemic status and that it is only a matter of time before there is widespread transmission in the U.S. The virus is spreading in Italy, Iran, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan among other countries. Azar says the risk of getting COVID-19 is still low, but that could quickly change.
February 26, 2020
Trump appoints Vice President Mike Pence to coordinate his administration's response to COVID-19. Trump, facing mounting criticism about a slow response, downplays the danger. "The risk to the American people remains very low," he says. More than 81,000 people are infected worldwide, and nearly 3,000 have died from the disease.
February 26, 2020
The CDC confirms that a person with no known risk factors for contracting the coronavirus has become infected with COVID-19 in Northern California.
March 4, 2020
California Governor Gavin Newsom declares a State of Emergency to make additional resources available, formalize emergency actions already underway in state agencies and departments and help the state prepare for the spread. The number of cases is rising, and one official death has been reported. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also declares a local emergency for the City of Los Angeles.
March 11, 2020
The WHO declares COVID-19 a global pandemic after 118,000 people contract the illness and 4,300 die in 114 countries. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the number of cases, deaths and affected countries will climb. In the U.S., where testing is slow, 1,000 cases have been diagnosed, and 29 people have died.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tests positive for the coronavirus, prompting the NBA to postpone a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. After the test results become public, the league suspends the season and plans to determine how to move forward.
Actor Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, reveal they have tested positive for the coronavirus after preparing to film a movie in Australia. The couple goes into quarantine.
March 12, 2020
The NCAA cancels its March Madness tournament. MLB postpones its March 26 opening day by at least two weeks. The NHL and MLS follow suit in delaying their seasons.
March 13, 2020
Trump declares a national emergency, freeing up $50 billion in federal resources to combat the coronavirus. During his announcement, Trump denies he made mistakes that some health experts say worsened the crisis, including slow test-kit distribution. "I don't take responsibility at all," he says.
Trump's 30-day travel ban goes into effect at midnight. The ban restricts most travel from 26 European countries to the U.S. but does not affect flights from the United Kingdom. U.S. citizens are exempt from the restrictions but will be directed to a select number of airports with added health screenings.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) announces the cancellation of classes for two weeks.
March 14-15, 2020
Panicked shoppers across Southern California clear store shelves of toilet paper, nonperishable foods and cleaning supplies all weekend as they worry about a looming coronavirus shutdown.
March 15, 2020
Newsom orders all bars, nightclubs, wineries and brewpubs to close; tells adults age 65 and over and those with chronic health conditions to stay home, allowing restaurants to remain open with reduced capacity so customers are socially distanced.
March 16, 2020
Trump acknowledges the gravity of the coronavirus and issues strict social distancing guidelines in a bid to slow hospitalizations. The guidelines include avoiding gathering in groups of more than 10 people, avoiding bars, restaurants and food courts and working and attending school from home. "We have an invisible enemy," he says.
The Dow Jones experiences its largest point drop in history, losing 2,997.10 points during the trading day.
March 17, 2020
The University of Minnesota launches two clinical trials to test the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. One trial will look at whether it prevents COVID-19, and the other will probe whether it works as a treatment for the disease.
Over one hundred deaths nationwide are reported. A Washington Post analysis reveals that most people who have died had underlying health conditions, including diabetes, kidney failure, high blood pressure or lung ailments. About 85% of the victims were over 60 years old, and about 45% were over 80. More than a third were living in residential care facilities.
The California Department of Parks and Recreation announces that all campgrounds in the California State Parks system will close to slow COVID-19's spread.
March 19, 2020
Italy reports 427 additional deaths for a total of 3,405 and passes China to lead the world in total coronavirus deaths. The majority of victims are older than 70. By March 8, 2021, Italy will report over 100,000 total deaths attributed to COVID-19.
Garcetti issues a "Safer at Home" emergency order that calls on residents to stay in their residences and limit activities to "critical tasks such as securing food and health, safety and medical necessities, as well as caring for children, elder adults, family, friends and people with disabilities." Clothing and some other retail stores are ordered to end in-person attendance.
Newsom also issues a stay-at-home order to "protect the health and well-being of all Californians and to establish consistency across the state in order to slow the spread of COVID-19."
March 20, 2020
Yosemite National Park, closes to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Soon, the wildlife will reclaim it.
March 22, 2020
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul becomes the first senator to test positive for coronavirus.
March 25, 2020
Newsom announces financial help for Californians, including a 90-day waiver of mortgage payments by Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and roughly 200 smaller banks and credit unions. Bank of America agrees to a 30-day waiver. For the next 60 days, there will be a moratorium on initiating foreclosure sales or evictions.
March 26, 2020
More than 500,000 cases are confirmed worldwide.
March 27, 2020
Trump signs a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill to aid Americans dealing with economic hardships from the pandemic. The law includes direct payments to taxpayers, enhanced unemployment benefits, loans for hard-hit industries, expanded provisions for business taxes, funds for small business loans, as well as funds for states, municipalities and medical facilities.
March 29, 2020
California State Parks close vehicle access to all 280 state parks to prevent a surge in visitors after after many state parks experienced them on Saturday, March 27, 2020.
March 30, 2020
Instacart workers go on strike demanding the San Francisco-based company provide hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes, hazard pay of $5 per order and an expanded sick pay policy. Macy's, Kohl's and Gap furlough most employees.
April 2, 2020
California confirms 10,000 cases.
More than 1.9 million Californians have filed for unemployment benefits since March 12, 2020, an average of more than 111,000 claims per day over the last week.
April 3, 2020
The CDC and White House Coronavirus Task Force recommend that Americans wear face coverings when in public, especially when it is difficult to maintain social distancing.
April 6, 2020
According to a survey from the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health & Human Services, hospitals report that widespread personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages are putting staff and patients at risk. The report also says more PPE usage than normal, a lack of a robust supply chain and higher prices from some vendors are contributing to the shortage. Hospital administrators also report being concerned about a shortage of specialized personnel needed for an anticipated patient surge, staff exposure to the virus and the emotional toll the pandemic is having on workers.
April 7, 2020
Garcetti issues an emergency order to require so-called "essential workers" to wear face coverings. The order, which will go into effect April 10, also requires customers at grocery stores and other essential businesses to wear masks. It also states that businesses must also implement physical distancing measures for workers and allow employees to wash their hands every half hour. "We need to protect every worker on the front lines of this crisis," Garcetti says.
I’m executing a Worker Protection Order: starting Friday, April 10th, employees & customers at many non-medical essential businesses such as grocery stores will be required to wear face coverings to take care of those who are taking care of us. More info: https://t.co/lbT15nJO5z— MayorOfLA (@MayorOfLA) April 8, 2020
April 8, 2020
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders drops out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, leaving former Vice President Joe Biden as the presumptive nominee. In a video message to supporters, Sanders says, "I could not in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win and which would interfere with the important work required by all of us in this difficult hour."
April 9, 2020
Stop AAPI Hate, an online anti-Asian racism tracker, gets more than 1,400 reports of racism against Asian Americans, which have been fueled in part by Trump’s anti-Chinese rhetoric when talking about the coronavirus.
April 10, 2020
Cases in the U.S. pass 500,000. Globally there are more than 1.6 million cases and more than 100,00 deaths.
April 12, 2020
After Trump approves Wyoming's declaration, all 50 states are under a major disaster declaration for the first time in U.S. history. The final declaration comes on the same day the United States passes Italy for most deaths from the coronavirus with 21,686. New York is the hardest-hit state with 9,385 deaths. Trump announces, "We are winning, and will win, the war on the Invisible Enemy!"
April 15, 2020
Hundreds of protesters, some armed, converge on Michigan's capital, Lansing, to express their anger over Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders for businesses to close and for residents to stay at home from work and school. The next day, Trump will say governors decide when states reopen and will appear to encourage the demonstrations by tweeting "Liberate Minnesota!" and "Liberate Michigan!" Trump will later call the protesters "very responsible." "These are people expressing their views," he will say. Similar "Operation Gridlock" protests involving mostly conservative groups will occur in states across the nation during the next few weeks.
April 23, 2020
During a White House briefing, Trump suggests that scientists test whether injecting bleach and disinfectants in the body could kill the coronavirus. He receives backlash from scientists, doctors, lawmakers and the manufacturer of Lysol, who clarify that disinfectants are toxic. Trump will later say he was joking.
April 25, 2020
Americans across the nation swarm to beaches and parks despite orders to stay home.