A Timeline of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As of 2021, this article is no longer being updated. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

The new coronavirus disease, called COVID-19, has appeared and spread extremely quickly, making its way to over 200 countries since its December 2019 discovery in China. This particular type of respiratory disease is caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2. It’s part of a larger family of coronaviruses, the majority of which cause only the common cold. 

More dangerous types of coronavirus include Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV) and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV). Like these more serious strains, COVID-19 can cause anything from mild respiratory problems to pneumonia or death.

The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a public health emergency.

U.S. COVID-19 Timeline

Lara Antal / Verywell


Symptoms of COVID-19, which range from mild to severe, may appear 1 to 14 days after initial exposure. They include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Loss of sense of smell or taste

If you think you may be sick but haven't talked to a healthcare provider yet, you can use our printable Doctor Discussion Guide below to help prepare you for your appointment.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide

How Many People Have Coronavirus? 

As of December 22, 2020, the World Health Organization has confirmed 76,023,488 cases of COVID-19 worldwide. Cases by region:

  • United States: 17,712,290
  • European Region: 23,885,746
  • Regions of the Americas: 33,002,132
  • Eastern Mediterranean Region: 4,708,243
  • Western Pacific Region: 1,020,596 
  • South-East Asia: 11,676,286    
  • African Region: 1,729,741

The interactive map below highlights the total numbers of confirmed cases from each country affected.

How Did It Start? 

The World Health Organization (WHO) was first alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhuan, a city in the Chinese province of Hubei, on December 31, 2019. According to the first WHO situation report on the coronavirus disease, the cases of pneumonia had no known cause, and totaled 44 by January 3.

China’s National Health Commission originally traced exposure to a seafood market in Wuhan, but later reports indicate that the market was unlikely to be the only source of the virus. By January 7, the exact strain—a new type of coronavirus—was identified, and initially named 2019-nCoV.

In February, the World Health Organization officially began calling the disease COVID-19.

First Deaths

A 61-year-old Chinese man was the first known person to die from coronavirus-related illness; he was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Media began reporting his death on January 10, 2020, adding he was a regular customer at the Wuhan seafood market. By January 31, there were 213 deaths and 9,720 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in China.

First Spread Outside of China

Thailand reported its first case of COVID-19 on January 13, 2020. The infected individual had traveled there from Wuhan.  

Japan reported its first case on January 15, also in a person who had visited Wuhan.

Spread to the United States

On January 21, 2020, Washington State reported the first case of the new coronavirus in the United States in a man who had returned from Wuhan, China.

Person-to-Person Spread

The first instance of a person transmitting COVID-19 to another person while in the United States was reported in Chicago, Illinois, on January 30. A woman in her 60s contracted the virus while caring for her father in China, passing it to her husband when she returned home. 

Community Spread

The early cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. were limited to people who had traveled from China and those they interacted closely with. But on February 26, the CDC confirmed a case in California with no reported travel connection to China or exposure to another person with COVID-19.

This marked the first possible instance of community spread—the spread of an illness with an unknown source of infection. 

U.S. Takes Global Lead In COVID-19 Cases

By March 26, the U.S. had more confirmed global COVID-19 cases than any other country. As of December 22, 2020, the CDC reported 17,790,376 cases—both confirmed and presumptive. See the full breakdown of reported cases across the country below.


On February 29, the CDC announced a 54-year-old man from Washington State was the first person in the U.S. to die of COVID-19-related illness. According to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he was treated, the man had underlying medical conditions. 

February 6 is a new date considered to possibly mark the earliest COVID-19-related death in the U.S. This comes after medical examiners in Santa Clara County, California, examined cases they were suspicious about but did not have the tests for at the time.

Officials say the victim was a 57-year-old woman who likely contracted the virus from community spread, meaning COVID-19 has been present in the U.S. for longer than previously thought.

Since then, 316,844 total deaths have occurred in the U.S.

Feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness, and uncertainty are normal during the COVID-19 pandemic. Being proactive about your mental health can help to keep both your mind and body stronger. Learn about the best online therapy options available to you.

WHO Declares Global Health Emergency 

In a January 31 situation report listing 9,826 confirmed cases globally, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 “a public health emergency of international concern.” At this time, 19 countries outside of China were affected.

On March 11, after confirming over 118,000 cases in 114 countries, WHO elevated the status to a pandemic.

Proposal to Reopen US Economy

On April 16, the Whitehouse released the Guidelines for Opening Up America Again, a three-phase approach to be carried out by state governors at either a statewide or county-by-county level. 

The guidelines propose specific criteria to be met before the three-phase approach begins: 

  • Downward trajectory of both COVID-19-like and influenza-like reported illnesses within a 14-day period
  • Downward trajectory of confirmed COVID-19 cases over a 14-day period 
  • Ability to treat all patients without crisis care
  • Ability to test all healthcare workers 

Phase One:

  • Vulnerable individuals and members of their household continue to shelter in place
  • Continue physical distancing in public settings
  • Avoid gatherings of over more than 10 people 
  • Minimize non-essential travel 
  • Continue working from home where possible 
  • Implement a phased return-to-work plan
  • Continue school closures 
  • Continue no-visitor policies at nursing homes and hospitals 
  • Open large venues like theaters and dine-in restaurants, as long as strict physical distancing protocols are followed 
  • Open gyms, as long as strict physical distancing protocols are followed 
  • Resume outpatient elective surgeries 

Phase Two:

  • Vulnerable individuals and members of their household continue to shelter in place
  • Continue physical distancing in public settings
  • Avoid gatherings of over more than 50 people 
  • Resume non-essential travel
  • Continue working from home where possible 
  • Open schools and youth activities 
  • Continue no-visitor policies at nursing homes and hospitals 
  • Maintain moderate physical distancing protocols at large venues like theaters and dine-in restaurants
  • Open bars, where appropriate, with reduced standing-room occupancy

Phase Three: 

  • Vulnerable individuals can resume going out in public, but should practice physical distancing 
  • Avoid crowds when possible 
  • Reopen workplaces 
  • Resume visitations at nursing homes and hospitals 
  • Implement limited physical distancing protocols at large venues like theaters and dine-in restaurants
  • Open bars, where appropriate, with increased standing-room occupancy

States Begin Reopening

As of May 1, states have reopened parts of their economy and public life. What that means for each state is different; for some, only certain retailers or places of worship are open, while others, like Georgia and Texas, are embracing a return to restaurants, retail, outdoor recreation, gyms, salons, and entertainment.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has warned against re-opening too much too soon, and predicts more COVID-19 outbreaks in light of rolling back physical distancing protocols.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. World Health Organization. WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Symptoms.

  3. World Health Organization. WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard.

  4. World Health Organization. Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) situation report - 1.

  5. Huang C, Wang Y, Li X. Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China. The Lancet. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30183-5

  6. Chen N, Zhou M, Dong X et al. Epidemiological and clinical characteristics of 99 cases of 2019 novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan, China: a descriptive study. The Lancet. 2020;395(10223):507-513. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(20)30211-7

  7. World Health Organization. Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) situation report - 11.

  8. Washington State Department of Health. Novel coronavirus outbreak 2020.

  9. Schencker L, Villagomez, J. First US person-to-person case of coronavirus reported in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune.

  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC confirms possible instance of community spread of COVID-19 in U.S.

  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC, Washington State report first COVID-19 death.

  12. Neegaard, L, Pace, J. Fauci: ‘We’re not there yet’ on key steps to reopen economy. AP.

By Anisa Arsenault
Anisa joined the company in 2018 after managing news surrounding fertility, pregnancy, and parenting for The Bump. Her health and wellness articles have appeared in outlets like Prevention and Metro US. At Verywell, she is responsible for the news program, which includes coverage of COVID-19.