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From Wuhan to the White House: A timeline of COVID-19’s spread

  • May 4: J. Crew files for bankruptcy

    Clothing and accessories company J. Crew, founded in 1957, announced it had filed for bankruptcy on May 4. It was the first major retailer to do so, with many more following suit.

  • July 9: Cases continue spiking and reaching new record highs

    Continuing a spike in cases that began in June as more states reopened their businesses, the United States set a record for new COVID-19 cases for the third consecutive week. States that saw the worst outbreaks between June and July were Arizona, California, Florida, South Carolina, and Texas, with their combined case counts surpassing record mid-April numbers. The seven-day average of reported COVID-19 deaths in these five states also rose by 51% between June 8 and July 8, even as this number fell in all other states combined.

  • July 23: US passes 4 million cases nationwide

    As more states grappled with record-high numbers of new COVID-19 cases, the United States passed 4 million cases and 145,000 deaths nationwide, jumping from 3 million cases just 15 days prior. President Donald Trump also announced the cancellation of parts of the Republican National Convention, planned for mid-August in Florida, due to COVID-19. The announcement came in tandem with Olivier Lacan, Florida data expert and COVID-19 Tracking Project volunteer, predicting that Florida would surpass New York—once the epicenter of the pandemic—in total number of cases. The prediction came true days later.

  • August-September: Congress fails to pass new COVID-19 relief bill

    With COVID-19 and increased unemployment still prevalent in the United States, Americans have been asking for a new relief bill, hopefully providing another stimulus payment and extending the $600 unemployment insurance that expired on July 31. However, Congress has stalled at passing a comprehensive economic stimulus package since the CARES Act in March. House Democrats and Senate Republicans have not been able to agree on how much this new bill should cost, and how much of those funds should go toward unemployed Americans, state funding, and struggling businesses. It’s growing more unlikely that there will be any new relief bills before Election Day on Nov. 3, as both chambers of Congress are supposed to be in recess for most of October.


  • August 17: U.N.C. Chapel Hill goes online one week after reopening

    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of the largest U.S. college campuses to reopen for in-person classes, was forced to close again when 177 students tested positive for COVID-19 just a week after classes began on Aug. 10. The 30,000 student campus will now be fully online. Colleges and their students have been struggling to figure out how to have a proper education during a pandemic. While some colleges, such as the University of California college system have switched to online learning for the entire year, other universities have decided to re-open with enforced mask mandates. U.N.C. closing, however, has shown the struggles parents, students, and teachers face as schools and universities struggle to hold classes while keeping their students and faculty safe.

  • August 26: Abbott antigen test approved

    As Americans wait days—and sometimes weeks—for the results of COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, some experts are turning to antigen tests as a potential strategy for faster and cheaper mass testing. Antigen tests look for a specific piece of the coronavirus’ structure, rather than identifying its genetic material, which makes these tests quicker to run, but less precise, than PCR tests.

    The Abbott Diagnostics antigen test is the most recent of four such tests to receive Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA. This test does not require any complex equipment, and gets patients results in only 15 minutes. The Trump Administration purchased 150 million of the new tests, to be put to use as soon as Abbott can manufacture them.

  • September 16: CDC releases vaccination playbook

    Though some epidemiology experts say this timeline is unlikely, the Trump Administration has instructed state and local public health agencies to prepare for COVID-19 vaccine distribution in October or November. The CDC’s Vaccination Program Interim Playbook provides logistical details about this potential release, from what supplies the CDC will send public health agencies to how vaccination data will be collected and reported. Notable insights include: multiple vaccine manufacturers will most likely have vaccines approved around the same time, each vaccine will likely require two doses (three to four weeks apart), and all vaccines will be distributed to the American public free of charge.

  • September 19: U.S. death toll passes 200,000

    Six months after most of the country implemented COVID-19 lockdown measures, NBC News reported that the United States surpassed the 200,000 mark. This came at the heels of Bob Woodward’s book coming out, in which the journalist wrote that Trump had been concerned about the coronavirus in early February, but downplayed it to the American public and did not have a national response until March. The book was based on several interviews conducted between Woodward and Trump, and while his staff say that the president downplayed the virus in order to not incite unnecessary panic, some researchers believe that fewer people would have died if the country started social distancing and quarantining just a week earlier.

  • October 2: COVID-19 reaches the White House

    Early in the morning on October 2, President Donald Trump announced that he and the First Lady had tested positive for COVID-19. Later that day, Trump was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he received the antiviral drug remdesivir and experimental COVID-19 treatments, including an antibody cocktail from the company Regeneron. He returned to the White House on October 5, and resumed public appearances on October 10.

    Meanwhile, the White House has been linked to 38 other COVID-19 cases as of October 14, according to the White House COVID-19 Tracker, an independent visualization project compiling news reports on this outbreak. These cases include Trump administration officials, high-profile politicians, and journalists in the White House press corps.

  • October 12-13: Medical trials paused

    Johnson & Johnson, one of the first American pharmaceutical companies to produce a COVID-19 vaccine, paused its clinical trial on October 12 due to an illness in one of the study's 60,000 patients. The next day, Eli Lilly, another pharmaceutical, paused its 300-person trial of a potential COVID-19 treatment which mimics the body's natural immune response to the disease, due to a safety concern from the FDA.

    Both pauses are natural parts of the scientific process; as clinical trials include hundreds (or even thousands) of people, scientists must take every possible precaution to ensure the safety of their patients. Pauses are usually not communicated to the public, but as American institutions race to bring safe vaccines and life-saving treatments to the public, every small hurdle in this complicated process is under immense scrutiny.

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