Four months and 100,000 deaths: the defining Covid-19 moments in the US – timeline

Alexandra Villarreal
Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

In just four months, Covid-19 has upended life in the US, ravaging cities and businesses and overwhelming hospitals woefully unprepared. What started as a single infection in Washington state ballooned until the US became the global hotspot for Covid-19, with exponentially more confirmed cases than any other nation.

Mixed messages from Donald Trump and his administration have caused confusion over when or if Americans will return to life as usual. Squabbles between the president, governors and mayors have inspired headlines as critics assail missed chances to contain the virus.

Related: 'It will disappear': the disinformation Trump spread about the coronavirus – timeline

Now, the US has passed another grim milestone, 100,000 Covid-related deaths, while there are more than 1.7 million confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 40 million are out of work as states begin to reopen amid fears a patchwork response could lead to a second wave of infections.

These are the defining moments from the US under Covid-19 so far.

21 January

The US confirms its first case of Covid-19, after a 35-year-old man who lives north of Seattle returns from Wuhan, China. A day later, Trump tells CNBC: “It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control.”

29 January

The White House announces a taskforce to “monitor, contain and mitigate the spread of the virus”.

30 January

The World Health Organization (WHO) labels the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. But Trump continues to downplay it, telling a crowd in Iowa: “We only have five people. Hopefully, everything’s going to be great.”

Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on 30 January. Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters

31 January

Alex Azar, secretary of health and human services, declares a public health emergency. Trump restricts travel from China, a decision that he later claims, erroneously, saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

5 February

After becoming the third president to be impeached, Trump is acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate.

6 February

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ships coronavirus testing kits to labs, but early tests are contaminated, handicapping the response. The US experiences its first known death from Covid-19, in California, though it will not be identified and reported as such for months.

24 February

The economy shows signs of free fall, even as Trump tweets: “Stock Market starting to look very good to me!” His administration asks Congress for $2.5bn to pay for vaccine development and protective equipment.

26 February

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announces that a patient in California has tested positive for Covid-19, potentially the first US case where the source of infection is unknown. At Life Care Center, a nursing home outside Seattle, two residents contract the virus. Dozens will succumb. Trump taps Mike Pence to lead the coronavirus response.

A woman talks on the phone to her mother as they look at each other through a window at the Life Care Center of Kirkland in Washington on 8 March. Photograph: David Ryder/Reuters

29 February

The US makes public what is then believed to be its first Covid-related death, a man in his 50s. The case is in Washington state, ground zero for the virus. Trump restricts travel from Iran.

6 March

Trump signs an $8.3bn aid bill that receives near-unanimous support in Congress. He says: “Anybody that wants a test can get a test,” a claim that confuses Americans and hamstrings healthcare workers.

11 March

The WHO redefines the outbreak as a pandemic. Trump restricts travel from Europe, excluding the UK. Days later, he announces a bar on travel from the UK and Ireland.

12 March

Broadway closes and the NCAA cancels March Madness. The US has more than 1,600 confirmed coronavirus cases, across almost every state.

13 March

Trump declares a national emergency, the same day Washington state orders its schools closed.

18 March

Trump signs a second coronavirus relief bill.

An empty Times Square in New York, New York, on 19 March. Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

19 March

Californians must stay at home to curtail the spread of the virus. A day later, New York issues a similar order, beginning a war of words between Trump and a number of governors.

24 March

Trump tells Fox News he “would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter”, 12 April. He faces immediate criticism.

26 March

The US reports its first 1,000 deaths. The next day, Trump signs a $2.2tn stimulus package that includes a $1,200 check for many Americans. Trump later takes heat for making sure the checks, intended to help struggling workers during catastrophic levels of unemployment, bear his signature during an election year.

28 March

The US death toll doubles, to more than 2,000, in just two days.

Temperatures are taken at a control point on a footbridge at the Dell Deton medical center in Austin, Texas, on 25 March. Photograph: Eric Gay/Associated Press

31 March

In a significant shift in tone, exactly a week after he floated the idea of reopening the country by Easter, Trump says “our country is in the midst of a great national trial, unlike any we have ever faced before”.

3 April

The CDC recommends all Americans wear face coverings in public – after weeks of suggesting otherwise. New York’s mayor warns that D-Day is looming as hospitals struggle to find personal protective equipment, ventilators, beds and staff.

13 April

Trump claims total authority over the states, saying: “The president of the United States calls the shots.” He is challenged by governors, who say he does not have the constitutional right to reopen the country without their involvement.

17 April

Two days after thousands of protesters in Michigan gathered to decry their state’s stay-at-home order, Trump tweets to “LIBERATE MINNESOTA”, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA”. Protesters in other states follow suit.

People take part in a ‘reopen’ protest in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on 20 April. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

23 April

The House of Representatives approves another relief bill to help small businesses and hospitals, after previous funds for small businesses fell into the hands of large companies such as Shake Shack and Potbelly. At a press briefing, Trump seems to suggest people might inject disinfectant as a way to fight the virus.

24 April

Trump claims he was being sarcastic about the disinfectant. The US surpasses 50,000 Covid-related deaths.

27 April

Trump says his administration is conducting “serious investigations” into China’s handling of the disease outbreak, and would most likely seek “very substantial” damages from Beijing over the pandemic.

28 April

The number of Americans who have tested positive for coronavirus is now more than 1 million, while almost 60,000 people are confirmed to have died with the disease in the US.

At least 68 people have already died at a veterans’ home in Massachusetts after contracting Covid-19, with dozens more infected.

30 April

Amazon announces revenues of $74.5bn in the first quarter of 2020, 26% higher than the same period last year and equivalent to more than $33m an hour.

3 May

Trump tells Fox News on Sunday that he’s “very confident” of a vaccine being developed by the end of 2020.

5 May

The White House coronavirus taskforce could be wound down as soon as June with responsibility handed back to federal agencies, the taskforce chief, Mike Pence, says. The US death toll tops 70,000.

6 May

Trump says a growing coronavirus death toll is simply the price that must be paid for reopening the economy. “We have to be warriors,” he tells Fox News. “We can’t keep our country closed down for years.” He reverses his plan to disband the White House coronavirus taskforce.

7 May

The Trump administration shelved a document created by the nation’s top disease investigators, it emerges, with step-by-step advice to local authorities on how and when to reopen restaurants and other public places during the still-raging coronavirus pandemic.

9 May

Three members of the White House coronavirus taskforce – including Dr Anthony Fauci – place themselves in self-quarantine after contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19.

Drs Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci wear face masks as they listen to Donald Trump speak in the Rose Garden of the White House on 15 May. Photograph: Stefani Reynolds/EPA

13 May

Despite Trump’s claims that the spread of coronavirus is dropping around the US, new infection hotspots are cropping up across Republican heartlands, including in Texas and Alabama.

18 May

The president says he is taking antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a defense against Covid-19, despite FDA warnings about its risks. Trump also threatened to cut US funding to the World Health Organization permanently.

21 May

Trump defies requests by going without a face mask in public during his tour of a Ford factory in Michigan, though pictures emerged of him wearing one earlier. Obama administration scientists warn the US must rebuild its emergency medical stockpile before fall.

22 May

Churches, mosques and synagogues are “essential services”, Trump declares, and threatens to override governors who refuse to reopen them at the weekend – a power he does not possess.

27 May

The United States records more than 100,000 deaths from Covid-19, moving past a the milestone even as many states relax mitigation measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.