A year of the coronavirus: From a hint of something in China to full-blown global pandemic

When UCLA Health’s Shangxin Yang told his medical students a pandemic was on its way, ‘They literally thought I was crazy.’

It was early in January 2020 and Shangxin Yang, PhD, already knew a pandemic was coming.

Even before Los Angeles would be stunned by the sudden death of basketball great Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, Dr. Yang, an assistant clinical professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, knew devastation lay ahead – telling medical residents and fellows that the emerging disease then known as the “Wuhan virus” was likely contagious and deadly.

He warned them the virus was spreading quickly between people and could reach pandemic proportions. He told students to be prepared to stay home in case of lockdowns.

“They literally thought I was crazy,” Dr. Yang recalls.

But he knew a deadly coronavirus when he saw one.

“Chinese scientists published the genome of the sequences in early January, and when I looked at it, I said, ‘That’s just another SARS,’” Dr. Yang says. “The moment I pieced the information together, I knew that another pandemic was inevitable. So that’s what I told my trainees.”

He had personal experience with SARS — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – and remembers the panic, travel disruptions and death it caused when it emerged in his native China, in 2002. He knew MERS — Middle East Respiratory Syndrome — well, too. By the time it arrived in the U.S. in 2014, Dr. Yang was a doctoral fellow at UCLA working on developing diagnostic workflows with Los Angeles public health officials.


Both SARS and MERS are coronaviruses.

Dr. Yang knew early the novel coronavirus was spreading through human-to-human contact, though that’s not what Chinese officials were saying. His friends in China were telling him about case counts much higher than media were reporting. He told his UCLA Health colleagues what was happening. Thinking of SARS, which was mostly concentrated in Asian nations, he advised them against traveling to the Far East.

“I predicted it was going to be a pandemic and it was going to be very serious, I just never expected it was going to be so bad,” Dr. Yang says. “The magnitude of this and the damage and the number of cases — that, nobody could predict.”

On Jan. 30, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a “public health emergency of international concern.”

Here’s a look back at a year of the coronavirus:


Jan. 31: U.S. Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar declares a national public health emergency.

Feb. 11: World Health Organization (WHO) renames novel coronavirus COVID-19.

March 3: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says face mask use in public is not recommended, guidance that will be reversed a month later.


March 4: California Gov. Gavin Newsom declares state of emergency. Los Angeles County declares state of emergency. UCLA Health convenes COVID-19 command center.

March 8: Grand Princess Cruise Ship, upon which many passengers will later test positive for coronavirus and several will die, docks at Port of Oakland.

March 10: UCLA Health implements in-house testing to diagnose COVID-19 infection.

March 11: WHO declares COVID-19 a pandemic. National Basketball Association suspends season.


Public health officials announce first coronavirus death in Los Angeles County.

March 12: Major League Soccer and National Hockey League suspend their seasons. Major League Baseball suspends Spring Training and delays opening day.

March 13: President Donald Trump declares national emergency. Los Angeles Unified School District announces school closures beginning March 16.

March 15: CDC warns against gatherings of more than 50 people.

March 19: Gov. Newsom issues statewide shelter-in-place order, the first in the nation.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announces “safer at home” order for the city and county. Most retail businesses, other than those deemed essential, are closed. UCLA Health pauses non-essential surgeries.


California announces 675 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 16 deaths.

Ten patients with COVID-19 are hospitalized at UCLA Health facilities; five in Westwood and five in Santa Monica.

March 20: UCLA Health launches “Chatbot,” an automated tool to answer patient questions about the coronavirus. Telemedicine visits more than triple to 2,000 a day.

March 24: Tokyo 2020 Olympics postponed until 2021.

California has 3,801 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 78 deaths.

March 26: UCLA Health implements voluntary masking policy.

March 27: Los Angeles County beaches close. Disneyland and Disney World shut down.

March 31: UCLA Health begins involvement in clinical trials for COVID-19 treatments.


April 1: Gov. Newsom announces California schools will be closed for the remainder of the academic year.

April 3: CDC and White House Coronavirus Task Force recommend Americans use face coverings in public.

April 16: UCLA Health implements universal masking. California has 24,424 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 821 deaths.

May 1: Californians protesting stay-at-home orders take to the capital in Sacramento.

Remdesivir receives emergency use authorization to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

May 6: UCLA Health begins in-house serology testing for COVID-19, which identifies antibodies that indicate past infection.

May 12: Los Angeles County officials recommend extending stay-at-home order until August.

California State University chancellor announces classes at the system’s 23 campuses will be held virtually in the fall.

May 13: Los Angeles County beaches reopen; visitors are required to wear masks.

June 1: Los Angeles County allows restaurants and hair salons to reopen for some in-person services.

June 15: The motion picture academy announces the Oscars will be postponed until April, 2021.

June 16: UCLA Health installs thermal cameras at medical-building entrances to quickly scan for fevers.


June 18: Gov. Newsom issues statewide mask mandate.

June 20: More than 150 San Quentin State Prison inmates test positive for coronavirus.

June 27: San Quentin reports more than 600 coronavirus cases.

June 29: Los Angeles County officials announce beaches will be closed for the July 4 holiday weekend. The county becomes the first in the nation to announce 100,000 coronavirus diagnoses.

July 11: WHO acknowledges that airborne transmission of coronavirus is possible.

July 14: The Tournament of Roses cancels Pasadena’s traditional New Year’s Day Rose Parade for the first time since World War II.

July 17: Gov. Newsom says most students in kindergarten through 12th grade statewide will be distance learning when school resumes in the fall.

July 27: Pfizer and Moderna begin large-scale trials of potential COVID-19 vaccines with about 30,000 volunteers each.

Aug. 7: California reports more than 10,000 COVID-19 deaths.

Aug. 10: There are more than 20 million COVID-19 cases worldwide, with more than 5 million in the U.S.

Aug. 31: The U.S. reports more than 6 million diagnosed COVID-19 cases. California reports 700,000.

Sept. 22: COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. tops 200,000.

Sept. 28: Worldwide COVID-19 death toll tops 1 million.

Oct. 1: President Trump announces he has tested positive for COVID-19.

Oct. 16: There are 8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

Oct. 22: Remdesivir becomes the first drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat COVID-19.


Nov. 8: Worldwide COVID-19 cases surpass 50 million.

Nov. 9: Pfizer announces that preliminary results of its vaccine tests indicate it’s 90% effective in preventing COVID-19.

There are 10 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

Nov. 15: There are more than 11 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

Nov. 16: Moderna reports preliminary data show its COVID-19 vaccine is more than 94% effective.

Gov. Newsom orders most non-essential businesses statewide to close again and health officials say Californians must wear masks outside their homes.

Nov. 17: FDA authorizes the first at-home prescription coronavirus test.

Nov. 18: U.S. surpasses 250,000 COVID-19 deaths.


Nov. 20: Pfizer seeks emergency use authorization from the FDA for its COVID-19 vaccine.

Nov. 23: AstraZeneca announces that early data show its COVID-19 vaccine to be at least 70% effective.

There are more than 12.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

Nov. 30: Moderna seeks emergency use authorization from the FDA for its COVID-19 vaccine.

There are more than 13.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

Dec. 2: U.S. reports its largest single-day COVID-19 death toll since the start of the pandemic: more than 2,800. Britain issues emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine.

Dec. 4: U.S. reports a record 229,000 new COVID-19 infections.

Dec. 6: ICU bed capacity of less than 15% in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley triggers a three-week stay-at-home order for both regions.

Dec. 8: There are more than 15 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

U.K. delivers its first COVID-19 vaccine, manufactured by Pfizer/BioNTech, the first approved vaccine given outside a clinical trial.

Dec. 11: FDA approves emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, allowing nationwide distribution to begin.

Photo by Ann Johansson

Dec. 14: The first COVID-19 vaccine is administered in the U.S. at Long Island Jewish Medical center in Queens, N.Y. U.S. death toll surpasses 300,000.

Dec. 16: UCLA Health begins administering Pfizer vaccine to frontline health care workers.

Photo by Ann Johansson

Dec. 18: FDA grants emergency use authorization to the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

There are more than 17.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

Dec. 21: France and other members of the European Union restrict travelers from Britain as a variant of coronavirus, suspected of being more transmissible, spreads through London and surrounding areas.

Dec. 22: Los Angeles County surpasses 9,000 COVID-19 deaths.

Dec. 29: California health officials extend the stay-at-home order in effect for Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley for at least another three weeks as ICU beds remain exceedingly scarce.

The mutated coronavirus strain responsible for the majority of new COVID-19 infections in the U.K. is identified in the U.S. for the first time, in a Denver patient.

Dec. 30: Los Angeles County surpasses 10,000 COVID-19 deaths. Gov. Newsom says the mutated coronavirus strain has been identified in Southern California.

Jan. 1, 2021: There are more than 20 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

Jan. 3: U.S. surpasses 350,000 COVID-19 deaths.

Jan. 7: There are more than 21.8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. The country reports a daily record 4,112 deaths.

Jan. 11: Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer advises essential workers – those who leave their home daily for work – as well as people who regularly run errands for family, to wear masks inside their own homes to avoid spreading COVID-19 to family members.

Jan 12: Federal government tells states to begin vaccinating all Americans age 65 and older to help stem the surge of COVID-19 cases, adding that vaccine supply held in reserve to provide required second doses will be released immediately.

Photo by Ann Johansson

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announces that, beginning Jan. 26, all international airline passengers bound for the United States must be tested for coronavirus within three days of their departure and show proof of negative results before boarding their flight.

Jan. 13: The U.S. reaches 4,400 COVID-19 deaths in a single day.

Jan. 14: Calling the U.S. vaccine rollout "a dismal failure," president-elect Joe Biden pledges to commit $400 billion to fight the pandemic, including the administration of 100 million vaccine doses during his first 100 days in office and the opening of most kindergarten-through-eighth-grade schools during that same period.

Jan. 15: The worldwide COVID-19 death toll tops 2 million.

Jan. 16: Los Angeles County surpasses 1 million cases of COVID-19.

Jan. 19: U.S. death toll from COVID-19 tops 400,000.

California tops 3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Los Angeles County Public Health officials announce the opening of five new large-scale vaccination sites, including The Forum in Inglewood, Fairplex in Pomona and Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia.

Jan. 20: On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signs executive orders requiring masks and physical distancing at all federal buildings and lands, including national parks and forests; establishing a federal COVID-19 coordinator; and restoring the National Security Council's global health security team.

Jan. 21: President Biden announces a national strategy for COVID-19 response that includes support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will establish vaccination centers, train vaccinators and serve as liaisons for each state; directives to the departments of Education and Health and Human Services to provide guidance and resources to reopen schools and childcare centers; the establishment of a COVID-19 testing board; mandatory testing and quarantine for travelers coming to the U.S. from other countries; and a request that all Americans wear masks for the next 100 days, which Biden calls "a patriotic act" that can save 50,000 lives.