A year ago, COVID-19 had just started to change life as we know it. Within weeks of North Carolina’s first case of the deadly virus confirmed March 3, we found ourselves living in a radically different reality–one of state-mandated lockdowns, shuttered businesses, compulsory mask-wearing, and social isolation.
In the beginning, few knew just how bad things would get. And then, they got much worse.
Some followed the government’s rules and restrictions; others protested against them. More than 860,000 people contracted the virus–some without any symptoms–while others fought for their lives on ventilators. More than 11,500 North Carolinians have died from complications due to COVID-19 since March of last year.
The pandemic also became a political power struggle. Then, as President Trump began his slow process of disappearing from the White House, the vaccines emerged and the terrifying trends brought on by a rapid COVID surge slowly began to shift. We’re not out of the woods yet–not by a long shot–but we’re in a vastly different place than we were a year ago.
This is how we got here.
December 31, 2019: The World Health Organization is alerted to several cases of a highly contagious strain of pneumonia in Wuhan, China.
January 7, 2020: The infection is identified as a novel coronavirus and dubbed 2019-nCoV (later to be known as COVID-19).
January 21, 2020: The first case of COVID-19 is reported in the United States–in a man in his 30s who had recently returned from China.
February 1, 2020: Cases are reported in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany, Singapore, and Vietnam. Almost 12,000 people have contracted the virus and more than 250 people have died in China alone.
February 26, 2020: President Trump assures the country that “within a couple of days” the virus will be gone and gloats about the great job that he’s doing. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the first known case of community spread–contraction not related to travel.
February 29, 2020: The United States reports the first death from COVID-19, a Seattle-area nursing home resident.
March 3, 2020: North Carolina reports its first case of COVID-19–a Wake County man who had recently visited a Seattle-area nursing home.
March 10, 2020: With seven North Carolinians testing positive for the virus, Governor Roy Cooper declares a state of emergency. Telecommuting is encouraged. Test kits are already in short supply.
March 12, 2020: The Dow drops a record 10 percent. Seven new cases of COVID-19 are reported in North Carolina the same day as Billie Eilish plays to a crowd of 20,000 at PNC Arena in Raleigh.
March 13, 2020: Wake County declares a state of emergency; Durham and Orange County close schools. Wake County will follow the next day.
March 17, 2020: Gov. Cooper orders all bars and restaurants close for dine-in service.
March 18, 2020: Local restaurants lay off workers, including 75 tipped servers at Trophy Brewing. There are 152 COVID-19 cases reported in North Carolina.
March 19, 2020: News breaks that U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) sold $1.7 million in stocks right before the market crash, and warned his rich donors of the virus weeks ago.
March 24, 2020: A man in Cabarrus County becomes the first person in North Carolina to die from the virus, followed by a Virginia resident traveling through the state.
March 31, 2020: Gov. Cooper orders utility companies not to cut off service during the pandemic as many households struggle to pay bills due to mass layoffs.
April 7, 2020: Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin’s “moonshot” bond proposal, which could have invested millions in housing, parks, and greenways, is canceled. Bandwidth, a Raleigh voice-over IP company with soaring profits as business meetings shifts to platforms like Zoom, announces a $100 million expansion with a new 40-acre headquarters in Raleigh.
April 13, 2020: With nearly 5,000 cases in the state and a wave of nursing home outbreaks, officials warn that the state could see 750,000 cases of the virus by June 1 without strict social distancing protocols.
April 21, 2020: Hundreds of unmasked coronavirus “truthers” protest in downtown Raleigh, opposing the governor’s restrictions.
April 23, 2020: Gov. Cooper unveils a three-part plan to reopen the state.
May 8, 2020: North Carolina enters the first wave of reopening but the stay-at-home order remains in effect.
May 18, 2020: North Carolina reports the pandemic’s largest single-day spike in cases yet, with 853 new cases reported.
May 22, 2020: Restaurants reopen in a limited capacity as the state enters the second phase of reopening—but bars and nightclubs remain closed. The next day, the state reports a record-high number of new cases.
May 26, 2020: Eleven inmates at Butner Federal Prison sue for release after the prison reports eight COVID-19 deaths.
May 28, 2020: The United States reports 100,000 deaths from COVID-19.
May 30-31, 2020: Downtown Raleigh erupts in protests over the death of George Floyd. Police unleash tear gas, and a destructive riot ensues downtown. Governor Cooper calls in the National Guard. In the days ahead, Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin institutes curfews and peaceful protests continue.
June 2, 2020: President Trump and Gov. Cooper butt heads over whether to hold the Republican National Convention in Charlotte (it is eventually moved to Florida before being closed to the public).
June 29, 2020: North Carolina reports more than 63,000 cases of the virus.
July 7, 2020: Raleigh cancels all festivals, road races, and parades through October.
July 10, 2020: The state breaks its record for COVID-19 hospitalizations for the fifth day in a row. At least 900 patients battling COVID have been hospitalized since the end of June.
July 14, 2020: Gov. Cooper announces that the state will remain in Phase 2 of reopening, delaying the relaxation of restrictions for at least three more weeks.
August 17, 2020: UNC-Chapel Hill moves to remote learning after a week of outbreaks on campus are reported.
September 3, 2020: Pfizer begins a massive trial for its vaccines and hopes for results by October.
September 22, 2020: The United States surpasses 200,000 deaths from the virus. President Trump calls it “a shame,” while insisting he’s done “a very good job.”
October 2, 2020: North Carolina finally moves into Phase 3 of reopening after lingering in Phase 2 for several months.
October 3, 2020: Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) announces he’s contracted COVID-19 after attending the nomination ceremony for Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
November 3, 2020: Boosted by his adept handling of the pandemic, Gov. Cooper wins a second term in one of few key wins for N.C. Democrats that election. A winner in the presidential race is unclear.
November 7, 2020: Joe Biden is declared the next U.S. president after surpassing the 270 electoral votes needed to secure victory.
November 25, 2020: COVID-19 cases show steady rise in the week following Thanksgiving and health officials warn that traveling for Christmas could result in a brutal post-holiday surge.
December 11, 2020: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the Pfizer vaccine for widespread use.
December 14, 2020: The vaccine arrives in North Carolina: a Charlotte doctor is the first to receive the Pfizer vaccine. Healthcare workers become eligible for vaccinations in the state. So far, more than 300,000 people have died from the virus in the U.S.
December 30, 2020: Gov. Cooper extends the eviction moratorium through January.
January 5, 2021: The INDY accompanies activists inside the state prison system’s “COVID Motel,” and reports on grim conditions there.
January 6, 2021: Residents 75 and older become eligible for vaccinations. Gov. Cooper extends 10 p.m. curfew for three weeks.
January 7, 2021: The state’s COVID-19 map is almost entirely red–96 percent–indicating critical spread in almost every county. The Triangle, however, shows only significant community spread.
January 9, 2021: The pandemic peaks in North Carolina, with more than 11,000 new cases reported that day and a positive test rate of more than 18 percent.
January 13, 2021: One week into the spring semester, UNC-Chapel Hill reports its first cluster.
January 14, 2021: Vaccinations become available for everyone over the age of 65.
January 27, 2021: Governor Cooper extends the state’s 10 p.m. curfew through February and continues the halt on evictions.
February 9, 2021: North Carolina surpasses 10,000 deaths from COVID-19 as the country nears 500,000 deaths.
February 24, 2021: North Carolina finally starts to see a downturn in virus cases, with the positive rate of daily tests down to about 6 percent. Gov. Cooper announces he will lift the curfew as a result.
February 26, 2021: Durham County reports its first case of a highly contagious COVID-19 variant first reported in the United Kingdom. Gov. Cooper vetoes a bill that would have forced schools to reopen.
March 3, 2021: Frontline essential workers, including grocery store staff, meatpacking employees, and postal workers are eligible for vaccination.
March 10, 2021: A federal mass vaccination site capable of administering up to 3,000 vaccines per day opens in Greensboro.
Follow Senior Staff Writer Leigh Tauss on Twitter or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.