2 years of COVID: 1st coronavirus case hit US in January 2020; hundreds of

NEW YORK — At the beginning of 2020, as the nation celebrated the start of a new year, many Americans were still unaware of the “mysterious pneumonia” that had sickened dozens of workers at a live animal market in Wuhan, China.

The illness, later identified as the “novel coronavirus”, began spreading rapidly across the globe. Several studies have suggested that the virus had already been spreading in the United States, potentially as early as December 2019.

However, it was not until mid-January of 2020, when the virus would officially be recognized as present on U.S. soil.

Two years ago, on Jan. 21, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the first domestic case of coronavirus. The positive patient was a 35-year-old man from Washington state, who had recently returned from Wuhan, China.

WATCH: NatGeo’s ‘The First Wave’ streaming for 48 hours to mark 2 years since 1st confirmed COVID case in US

Now, two years later, the U.S. has confirmed more than 69 million COVID-19 cases, and 859,000 deaths, the highest in the total for any country, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. And the nation, despite the wide availability of highly effective vaccines and novel treatments, is experiencing its most significant surge on record due to the highly transmissible omicron variant and tens of millions of eligible Americans remaining unvaccinated.

“These last two years have brought transformational advancements spanning vaccines, treatments and testing. Though these tools are having a clear impact on reducing poor outcomes, we are still seeing one of the worst surges to date,” said John Brownstein, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and an ABC News contributor.

‘Low’ risk morphs into pandemic

Just days before the first case was confirmed two years ago, the CDC had implemented public health entry screening at several major airports including San Francisco International Airport, New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.

At the time, the CDC reported that while the virus was originally thought to be spreading from animal-to-person, there were “growing indications” that “limited person-to-person spread” was taking place.

“This is certainly not a moment for panic or high anxiety. It is a moment for vigilance,” Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee said during a news conference that same day. “The risk is low to residents in Washington.”

Less than a week after the first domestic case was confirmed, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, which is a division of the CDC, stressed that the “virus is not spreading in the community… For that reason, we continue to believe that the immediate health risk from the new virus to the general public is low at this time.”

In late February, Messonnier said she ultimately expected to see community spread in the U.S. At the time, health officials noted that the virus may not be able to be contained at the border and that Americans should prepare for a “significant disruption” in their lives.

In the months to come, Life Care Center of Kirkland, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Seattle suburbs, would become the first epicenter of the virus’ deadly journey across the country. The epicenter quickly then became New York City, which experienced hundreds of deaths a day at the peak of April 2020.

It would be another seven weeks until the World Health Organization would declare the global coronavirus a pandemic, subsequently forcing borders to close, and Americans to retreat to their homes for what some thought would be just a few weeks of “social distancing” and “stay-at-home” orders.

In the first months of pandemic, through April 2020, more than 1 million Americans were sickened and 65,000 died, when the virus was still largely mysterious, treatments and supplies were scarce and hospitals were overwhelmed in large urban areas like New York. Subsequent waves of the virus each had their own characteristics from the deadly winter surge of 2020 to 2021 and the delta variant surge, which upended the optimism that the pandemic would finally come to an end after mass vaccination.

In fact, in the last year alone, more than 450,000 Americans have been lost to the virus.

17 million cases in a month

Two years into the pandemic, federal data shows that hundreds of thousands of Americans are still testing positive for the virus every day, and more than 1,600 others are dying from COVID-19.

In the last month alone, there have been more than 17.1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 44,700 reported virus-related deaths. In addition, more than a year into the U.S. domestic vaccine rollout, 62 million eligible Americans who are over the age of 5, about 20% of that group, remain completely unvaccinated.

“After 24 months and unprecedented medical innovation, the last month has brought millions of cases and tens of thousands of deaths. While many…

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