When it comes to infectious diseases, a pandemic is the worst-case scenario. When an epidemic spreads beyond a country’s borders, that’s when the disease officially becomes a pandemic. With the first cases showing up in January of this year, the Novel Coronavirus-2019 – or COVID-19 – showed early signs of an epidemic, but very few knew exactly what we were globally in store for. Below, we will follow a timeline of major events, from the virus’s origins to present day and what we know now.
- January 9, 2021 — WHO Announces Mysterious Coronavirus-Related Pneumonia in Wuhan, China
At this point, the World Health Organization (WHO) still has doubts about the roots of what would become the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that the spate of pneumonia-like cases in Wuhan could have stemmed from a new coronavirus. There are 59 cases so far, and travel precautions are already at the forefront of experts’ concerns.
- January 21, 2020 — CDC Confirms First US Coronavirus Case
A Washington state resident becomes the first person in the United States with a confirmed case of the 2019 novel coronavirus, having returned from Wuhan on January 15, thanks to overnight polymerase chain reaction testing. The CDC soon after deploys a team to help with the investigation, including potential use of contact tracing.
- January 21, 2020 — Chinese Scientist Confirms COVID-19 Human Transmission
At this point, the 2019 novel coronavirus has killed four and infected more than 200 in China, before Zhong Nanshan, MD, finally confirms it can be transmitted from person to person. However, the WHO is still unsure of the necessity of declaring a public health emergency.
- January 23, 2020 — Wuhan Now Under Quarantine
In just 2 days, 13 more people died and an additional 300 were sickened. China makes the unprecedented move not only to close off Wuhan and its population of 11 million, but to also place a restricted access protocol on Huanggang, 30 miles to the east, where residents can’t leave without special permission. This means up to 18 million people are under strict lockdown.
- January 31, 2020 — WHO Issues Global Health Emergency
With a worldwide death toll of more than 200 and an exponential jump to more than 9800 cases, the WHO finally declares a public health emergency, for just the sixth time. Human-to-human transmission is quickly spreading and can now be found in the United States, Germany, Japan, Vietnam, and Taiwan.
- February 3, 2020 — US Declares Public Health Emergency
The Trump administration declares a public health emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak. The announcement comes 3 days after WHO declared a Global Health Emergency as more than 9,800 cases of the virus and more than 200 deaths had been confirmed worldwide.
- February 25 — CDC Says COVID-19 Is Heading Toward Pandemic Status
Explaining what would signify a pandemic, Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, says that thus far COVID-19 meets 2 of the 3 required factors: illness resulting in death and sustained person-to-person spread. Worldwide spread is the third criteria not yet met at the time.
- March 11 — WHO Declares COVID-19 a Pandemic
In declaring COVID-19 a pandemic, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO, said at a briefing in Geneva the agency is “deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity” of the outbreak. He also expressed concern about “the alarming levels of inaction.”
- March 13 — Trump Declares COVID-19 a National Emergency
President Donald Trump declares the novel coronavirus a national emergency, which unlocks billions of dollars in federal funding to fight the disease’s spread.
- March 19 — California Issues Statewide Stay-at-Home Order
California becomes the first state to issue a stay-at-home order, mandating all residents to stay at home except to go to an essential job or shop for essential needs. The order also instructs health care systems to prioritize services to those who are the sickest.
- March 24 — With Clinical Trials on Hold, Innovation Stall
Overwhelmed hospitals are keeping out everyone who does not need to be there, and that means delaying the start of new clinical trials, according to an interview. The Center for Biosimilars® reported that drugs with fresh FDA approvals are not likely to launch, as their chances of making it into circulation are dim with hospitals struggling just to find enough personal protective equipment.
- March 25 — Reports Find Extended Shutdowns Can Delay Second Wave
Mathematical models based on social distancing measures implemented in Wuhan, China, show keeping tighter measures in place for longer periods of time can flatten the COVID-19 curve.
- March 27 — Trump Signs CARES Act into Law
The House of Representatives approves the CARES act, the largest economic recovery package in history, and Trump signs it into law. The bipartisan legislation provides direct payments to Americans and expansions in unemployment insurance.
- March 30 — FDA Authorizes Use of Hydroxychloroquine
FDA issues an emergency use authorization (EUA) for “hydroxychloroquine sulfate and chloroquine phosphate products” to be donated to the Strategic National Stockpile and donated to hospitals to treat patients with COVID-19. The EUA would be rescinded June 15, except for patients in clinical trials, in the wake of reports of heart rhythm problems among some patients.
- March 31 — COVID-19 Can Be Transmitted Through the Eye
A report in JAMA Ophthalmology creates a stir with the finding that patients can catch the virus that causes COVID-19 through the eye, despite low prevalence of the virus in tears.
AJMC Staff. (2020, January 1). A Timeline of COVID-19 Developments in 2020. AJMC. Retrieved April 6, 2020.