A Timeline of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

How It Started and Where It's Spreading

The new coronavirus disease, called COVID-19, has appeared and spread extremely quickly, making its way to over 100 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.

Citing a mortality rate of 3.4%, the World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a public health emergency.


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 

If your doctor thinks your symptoms could be indicative of COVID-19, they will arrange for testing with the CDC or your local health department. Only CDC-approved labs have access to the rapid test for COVID-19, which collects nose, throat, or lung samples.

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 April 5, 2020, the World Health Organization has confirmed 1,133,758 cases of COVID-19 worldwide.

  • Cases in the United States: 273,808
  • Cases in the Western Pacific Region: 111,396 
  • Cases in the European Region: 621,407
  • Cases in South-East Asia: 7,816 
  • Cases in the Eastern Mediterranean Region: 70,293
  • Cases in the Regions of the Americas: 315,714
  • Cases in the African Region: 6,420

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, 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. 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 United States

On January 21, 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 April 5, 2020, the CDC reported 304,826 cases—both confirmed and presumptive. See the full breakdown of reported cases across the country below.

As the volume of patients surpasses hospital capacity, cities are scrambling to set up makeshift hospitals.

  • Los Angels and New York welcomed U.S. Navy hospital ships to relieve hospitals, each with 1,000 beds. The U.S.N.S. Mercy docked in L.A. on March 27, and the U.S.N.S. Comfort arrived in N.Y. on March 30.
  • New York City is also creating temporary hospitals in sites like Central Park and the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, both accepting patients the week of March 30.


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. 

Since then, 7,616 total deaths have occurred in the U.S.

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.

  • The Philippines reported the first COVID-19-related death on February 2, marking the first fatality outside of China. The patient, a 44-year-old man, had been in close contact with another COVID-19 patient.
  • Iran announced its first two COVID-19 cases—and deaths—on February 19. The source is unknown. As of March 3, Iranian cases had reached over 2,300, including 77 deaths.
  • Italy experienced a sudden increase of COVID-19 cases in the matter of a weekend, jumping from three incidents on Friday, February 21 to 229 by the time of WHO’s February 25 situation report. By March 9, with the number of cases surpassing 6,000, Italy imposed a nationwide lockdown.
  • Germany closed its borders on March 16 to travelers without a valid reason to enter the country.
  • The U.S. closed its borders to unnecessary travel with both Mexico and Canada, effective starting March 21.

Treatments in Progress

While there is currently no recommended treatment, vaccine, or antiviral medication for COVID-19, pharmaceutical companies are racing for solutions.

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