This COVID-19 pandemic timeline shows how fast the coronavirus took over our lives

The front of the cruise ship the Diamond Princess

In February, the Diamond Princess cruise ship (shown docked in Yokohama, Japan) had one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks outside of China at the time.

KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images

Few people noticed on New Year’s Eve last year when China reported a mystery illness to the World Health Organization. But soon, the never-before-seen coronavirus responsible for the disease was infiltrating the rest of the world.

As we prepare to enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Science News looks back on how the disease took over 2020 and how society attempted to fight back.

December 31, 2019

China notifies the World Health Organization about a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown cause in Wuhan.

January 9, 2020

The WHO announces a novel coronavirus is the cause of the pneumonia.

January 10

Scientists release the virus’s complete genetic blueprint.

January 13

Thailand reports the first known novel coronavirus infection outside of China. Within a week, Japan and South Korea report cases.

January 21

The first U.S. infection is reported in the state of Washington.

Scientists announce the virus can spread person-to-person.

January 23

Wuhan goes into lockdown to stem the virus’ spread.

Food market in Wuhan, China
Initial coronavirus cases were linked to a market in Wuhan, China (shown before the pandemic). But experts now doubt that’s where the outbreak started. Imaginechina Limited/Alamy Stock Photo

January 24

France reports the first cases in Europe.

January 25

Australia reports its first case.

January 30

Scientists say an infected person spread the virus before showing symptoms.

February 3

The Diamond Princess cruise ship is quarantined in Japan. Eventually, 712 of the 3,711 people on board test positive. Through mid-March, cruise ship travelers represent about 17 percent of known U.S. cases.

February 5

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releases a flawed COVID-19 diagnostic test, delaying the country’s ability to screen widely for the virus.

SEM image of SARS-CoV-2
The novel coronavirus (round yellow objects in this scanning electron microscope image) was dubbed SARS-CoV-2 in February. NIAID-RML

February 11

Virologists name the virus “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2,” or SARS-CoV-2, because it is related to the virus that caused the 2002–2003 SARS outbreak. The disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 is named “COVID-19.”

February 14

Egypt reports Africa’s first case.

February 26

Brazil reports South America’s first case.

March 9

Italy begins a national lockdown. Ten days later, the country’s COVID-19 deaths top 3,400, surpassing China’s death toll.

empty street in Rome with two soldiers and two tanks on patrol
Soldiers patrolled Rome on March 9 as a national lockdown in Italy began.Giuseppe Fama/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

March 10

After a choir in Washington state meets for a practice, over 80 percent of attendees get infected, suggesting airborne transmission of the virus.

March 11

The WHO declares the outbreak is a pandemic. The virus has spread to at least 114 countries, killed over 4,000 people and infected nearly 120,000.

March 16

COVID-19 vaccine safety tests begin in the United States and in China.

March 17

Contrary to conspiracy theories, a study confirms the virus was not made in or released from a lab. Subsequent research suggests a bat is the most likely source.

March 19

California issues the first statewide stay-at-home order.

March 27

As the number of U.S. cases surpasses 100,000, the United States becomes the new epicenter of the pandemic.

Hydroxychloroquine tablets
Originally approved for emergency use in some COVID-19 patients, hydroxychloroquine was later found not effective, and in June the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revoked authorization for treating COVID-19 patients outside of clinical trials.amlanmathur/iStock/Getty Images Plus

March 28

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration grants emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine, an antimalaria drug, to treat some hospitalized patients.

April 2

Global cases hit 1 million. More than 53,000 people have died.

April 3

With evidence mounting that the virus can spread through the air and that asymptomatic people are contagious, the CDC recommends people wear face coverings in public.

April 11

U.S. death toll hits 20,000 people, surpassing the number of deaths in Italy.

April 28

U.S. cases reach 1 million.

five people wearing masks surround a hole for a grave
In May, cemetery workers buried the remains of people unclaimed by relatives in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The country still has one of the world’s highest COVID-19 mortality rates. David Peinado/NurPhoto via Getty Images

May 1

The FDA grants emergency use authorization for the antiviral drug remdesivir for severely ill patients after preliminary findings suggest the drug can shorten hospital stays.

May 14

The CDC sends out an advisory about cases of a multi­system inflammatory syndrome in children who test positive for the virus.

June 15

The FDA revokes emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine after multiple studies show no benefit.

June 16

Dexamethasone, a steroid, is the first drug found to reduce COVID-19 deaths, among people sick enough to need respiratory support.

June 25

China approves a vaccine for use by the military, before final safety and efficacy testing is completed.

June 28

Less than six months after the disease is named, more than 10 million people worldwide have been infected with the virus and over 500,000 have died.

July 10

Gilead Sciences, the maker of remdesivir, claims the drug reduces risk of death from COVID-19.

July 27

Pfizer and Moderna begin recruiting tens of thousands of volunteers for late-phase clinical trials of their vaccines.

August 11

Russian President Vladimir Putin announces that a vaccine dubbed Sputnik V will be available to the general public, even though all phases of testing are not yet completed.

August 17

A week into the fall semester, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announces all undergraduate classes will move online because of high infection rates on campus.

August 23

The FDA grants emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma to treat hospitalized patients, despite a lack of clinical trials assessing whether blood from recovered patients actually helps fight the disease.

August 25

The first report of a person being reinfected with the virus raises concerns about how long immunity lasts.

September 28

More than 1 million people have died from COVID-19; over 40 percent of deaths have occurred in the United States, Brazil and India.

October 2

President Donald Trump tweets that he is infected, becoming the latest in a series of world leaders to get COVID-19. He is later hospitalized and receives remdesivir, dexamethasone and an experimental antibody treatment.

Donald Trump wearing a surgical mask giving a thumbs-up
President Donald Trump left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on October 5 after receiving treatment for COVID-19.SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

October 22

Remdesivir becomes the first drug to win full FDA approval for treating COVID-19. A week earlier, however, a WHO study found that the drug does not reduce COVID-19 deaths, countering the drugmaker’s earlier claim.

October 23

Researchers report that Hispanic and Black residents are disproportionately represented among U.S. COVID-19 deaths. From May through August, Hispanic or Latino people accounted for 24.2 percent of the total deaths. Non-Hispanic Black people accounted for 18.7 percent of the deaths.

November 9

Based on preliminary data, Pfizer says its vaccine appears to be 90 percent effective at preventing people from getting sick from the coronavirus. Subsequent findings suggest 95 percent effectiveness.

The FDA grants emergency use authorization for Eli Lilly’s monoclonal antibody therapy. The lab-made antibodies may keep virus levels low in newly infected people and prevent hospitalizations.

lines of cars lined up for COVID testing
With COVID-19 cases surging across the United States, people in El Paso, Texas, lined up for drive-through testing on November 9.Joel Angel Juarez/Bloomberg via Getty Images

November 16

Moderna says its vaccine is 95 percent effective.

November 20

Pfizer seeks emergency FDA approval for its vaccine. Ten days later, Moderna requests the same.

November 23

AstraZeneca reports its vaccine is 62 to 90 percent effective.

December 2

The United Kingdom clears Pfizer’s vaccine for emergency use.

December 10

An advisory committee recommends that the FDA grant emergency use authorization of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Global cases stand at more than 69 million, with more than 1.5 million deaths.

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