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COVID-19 Timeline Project

This is my attempt at building a comprehensive timeline of events that describe the COVID-19 pandemic.

My goal for this project is to tell a story. As I start this project, I don’t know where the story is going, what subplots will develop, what characters will appear, develop, and maybe disappear. I certainly don’t know how this story is going to end. But I think it’s going to be a wild ride.

This is an America-centric timeline, but I’ve included key pandemic events from around to world to keep perspective that this truly is a global catastrophe, not just American.

A Living Document

Since the pandemic is a work in progress, this story is a work in progress. As new information becomes available I plan on incorporating it where it belongs on the timeline. So please come back often and see how this story grows. With luck, it may have a happy ending.

Source Data

All source data in the form of an Excel spreadsheet is available at the end of this timeline under a creative commons license. Readers may freely download this and add to it. If you know of a key event that should be in this, please contact me and let me know. All references, cited in this timeline and linked to icons, can be found in the spreadsheet. My readers are invited to use the links and follow threads where ever they lead.

All events are placed in the timeline when they occur, not when they were “discovered” or otherwise made public. In some cases specific events were not publicized until months after the event occurred. I think that putting these event in proper context helps understand the overall history of how we got here.

Contact Us

Prelude <> Nov/Dec 2019 <> January 2020 <> February <> March <> April <> May <> June <> July <> August <> September <> Source Data

Prelude

This timeline will start several years prior to the first known appearance of the novel coronavirus. I believe this is necessary to create proper context for events during the actual pandemic.

February 2007

The CDC publishes “Interim Pre-pandemic Planning Guidance: Community Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Mitigation in the United States—Early, Targeted, Layered Use of Nonpharmaceutical Interventions,” a document intended to provide interim planning guidance for communities, that focuses on measures other than vaccination and drug treatment to reduce harm from influenza pandemics.

June 2010

As a “lessons learned” from the 2009 novel H1N1 pandemic, the CDC funded the publication of “Assessing Policy Barriers to Effective Public Health Response to the H1N1 Influenza Pandemic,” to systematically identify and assess key policy barriers encountered during the H1N1 response.

Year 2011

U.S. Congressional budget battles, fueled by the recently elected wave of “Tea Party” Republicans, forced drastic budgets cuts. One casualty of these cuts was the National Emergency Medical Stockpile, which was formed to maintain adequate supplies of masks, ventilators, pharmaceuticals and other medical equipment needed to respond to a public health crisis.

Year 2014

Icon - reference linkBuilding on the Ebola pandemic experience, the Obama administration set up a permanent epidemic monitoring and command group inside the White House NSC and another in the DHS—both of which followed the scientific and public health leads of the NIH, CDC, and the diplomatic advice of the State Department.
President Obama requested funding from Congress to set up a public health infrastructure needed to deal with future pandemic outbreaks. But most funding requests to purchase protective equipment and train medical staff to prepare for future outbreaks were denied by a Republican-controlled House of Representatives that was filled with Tea Party-affiliated politicians.

Year 2016

National Security Council develops “NSC Playbook for Early Response to High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents.” based upon lessons learned from the Ebola experience. The purpose of this publication was to assist U.S. Government leaders in coordinating a complex response to a high-consequence emerging disease threat.

January 1, 2017

The CDC updates the 2007 Interim “Pre-pandemic Planning Guidance” with new guidelines and information titled “Community Mitigation Guidelines to Prevent Pandemic Influenza“. This includes checklists for specific action steps to help public health professionals and administrators of schools, workplaces, and mass gatherings plan and prepare for a flu pandemic and implement Nonpharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs).

January 6, 2017

The Pentagon develops a draft memo “USNORTHCOM Branch Plan 3560 Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Disease Response,” updating an earlier 2012 memo, incorporating insights from several recent disease outbreaks including the 2012 Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) Coronavirus. The plan states: “Competition for, and scarcity of resources will include…non-pharmaceutical MCM [Medical Countermeasures] (e.g., ventilators, devices, personal protective equipment such as face masks and gloves), medical equipment, and logistical support. This will have a significant impact on the availability of the global workforce.

January 13, 2017

As part of the presidential transition and turnover, outgoing President Obama’s transition team conduct tabletop disaster response activities with Trump’s top aides. One of those tests simulated a strain of novel and deadly influenza they called H9N2, originating in Asia and quickly spreading to Europe and then to the U.S. “Health officials warn that this could become the worst influenza pandemic since 1918,” the Obama team told Trump’s aides during the exercise.
Take-aways from this exercise included the critical nature of response times, and the need for medical countermeasure strategies.

January 20, 2017

Donald Trump sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.

February 1, 2018

The global health section of the CDC is cut by 80 percent. Much of its staff was laid off and the number of countries the Global Health Section was working in was reduced from 49 to 10. Countries where the CDC is planning to scale back from include some of the world’s hot spots for emerging infectious disease, including China.

Spring 2018

The White House pushed Congress to cut funding for a number of Obama-era disease security programs. White House efforts included reducing $15 billion in national health spending and cutting the global disease-fighting operational budgets of the CDC, NSC, DHS, and HHS. The government’s $30 million Complex Crises Fund was also eliminated.

April 10, 2018

Homeland Security adviser, Tom Bossert, was fired Tuesday as the president’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, consolidates power in the White House. Bossert had repeatedly called for a comprehensive biodefense strategy against pandemics and biological attacks.

May 7, 2018

The CDC hosted a daylong conference focused on mining information from the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic for lessons on the present and warnings for the future. Implicit was the understanding that while the 1918 pandemic was a singular catastrophe, conditions in the 21st century were ideal for another outbreak.

May 2018

Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, tasked with directing a national response to a pandemic, abruptly departed from his post leading the global health security team on the National Security Council amid a reorganization of the council by then-National Security Advisor John Bolton. Ziemer’s team was then disbanded. This team was created by the Obama administration in 2014 after the Ebola pandemic, intended to monitor and prepare for future pandemics.

March 12, 2019

A study of wastewater in the City of Barcelona, Spain, reveals that traces of the Coronavirus was present in a water sample taken on March 12, 2019. These results, sent to a high impact journal as a pre-print pending peer review in the archive medRxiv, suggest the infection was present before knowing about any case of COVID-19 in any part of the world. Scientists speculate the novel coronavirus may have been initially less contagious, and then mutated, which explains why it took such a long time to find a COVID-19 patient in Europe. This report was published June 13, 2020.

July 2019

Dr. Linda Quick was a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as resident adviser to Chinese health officials. She left the role upon learning her position would be discontinued in September. In the position — officially known as the resident adviser to the US Field Epidemiology Training Program in China — Quick trained field epidemiologists who helped track, investigate and contain diseases at the epicenter of outbreaks.

August 2019

A study published by Harvard Medical School in June 2020 “Analysis of Hospital Traffic and search engine data in Wuhan China Indicates Early Disease Activity in the Fall of 2019” reports that the novel coronavirus might have hit the Chinese city of Wuhan as early as August 2019. The study analyzed satellite images of hospital traffic in Wuhan and search engine trends related to the virus.

September 2019

The Trump administration ends a $200-million pandemic early-warning program aimed at training scientists in China and other countries to detect and respond to such a threat. Called EcoHealth Alliance for its work and focused on hot interfaces — areas with high biodiversity, dense human populations, and high human-animal interaction.” class=”toolTip”]PREDICT[/su_tooltip], the initiative launched in 2009 also trained and supported staff in 60 foreign laboratories including the Bio-lab in Wuhan, China.
The Council of Economic Advisers publish “Mitigating the Impact of Pandemic Influenza through Vaccine Innovation.” This report provides estimates of the potentially large health and economic losses in the United States associated with influenza pandemics.
Icon COVID Timeline BulletA study by the Italian National Cancer Institute (INT) released November 16, 2020, indicates that the Coronavirus was circulating in Italy as early as September 2019. The data shows that 11.6% of 959 healthy volunteers developed coronavirus antibodies as revealed in a lung cancer screening trial conducted between September 2019 and March 2020. A further SARS-CoV-2 antibodies test was carried out by the University of Siena for the same research titled “Unexpected detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in the pre-pandemic period in Italy”. It showed that four cases dating back to the first week of October were positive for antibodies, meaning they had got infected in September.

October 2019

The HHS and FEMA collaborated to create a pandemic response exercise labeled “Crimson Contagion 2019.” The after action report identified six key findings including insufficient fundings sources for the federal government to use in response to a severe influenza pandemic, lack of cohesive oragnizational structure across federal, state, and local jusridictions, and inadequate medical countermeasures supply and production chains.
A team composed of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security (JHU) and The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) releases the Global Health Security (GHS) Index report, the first comprehensive assessment and benchmarking of health security and related capabilities across the 195 countries that make up the States Parties to the International Health Regulations (IHR [2005]). Overall findings show no country is fully prepared for epidemics or pandemics. Collectively, international preparedness is weak. Many countries do not show evidence of the health security capacities and capabilities that are needed to prevent, detect, and respond to significant infectious disease outbreaks.

October 6

In a study published in May 2020 researchers determined that, based upon phylogenetic analysis estimates, the COVID-2 pandemic may have started as early as 6 October 2019 to 11 December 2019.

October 18 – 27

The 2019 Military World Games, branded the “Peace Games,” is hosted in Wuhan, China. The largest military sports event ever held in China, more than 9,000 athletes representing the militaries of more than 100 countries competed in 27 sports ranging from golf to parachuting. The US military delegation to Wuhan includes 188 athletes, 24 coaches, 18 team captains, 15 medical providers, 10 referees, nine public-affairs officers, seven “senior leaders,” nine CISM (International Military Sports Council), and two State Department personnel. After-the-fact analysis indicated many of these athletes may have been infected, and brought the virus back to their home countries.

What We’re Fighting

Coronavirus As Seen Under An Electron Microscope
Coronavirus As Seen Under An Electron Microscope

Popup Windows

In addition to downloadable files and sidebar text, I’ve also scattered popup windows throughout this timeline. These popup windows provide amplifying information on key events.


Popup Window Example

Icon Symbols

Meaning of icons used in the main timeline narrative:
Icon - reference linkGeneral Information
Icon - related information Continuation of previous information, with a different reference
Icon - Information State-of-Emergency or Stay-At-Home Declared or Rescinded
Video Icon Provides a video clip
Provides a pop-up information window
– Move your mouse over an acronym, name, or term, used in this timeline for an explanation
Icon Document Download Link for a Download File

Preamble


My Preamble and full disclosure of bias

Commentary


No One Could Have Anticipated

2006 – 2008


Avian Flu

2009 / 2015


Swine Flu

2014


Ebola

2012 / 2015 / 2020


MERS

2020


Coronavirus

Documentation

The following downloads are original documents referenced in this section of timeline.

Icon Document Download
National Strategy for Pandemic influenza“, Published November 2005, an earlier version of the NSC Playbook published in 2016

Document Download
CDC Pre-pandemic Planning Guidance, 2007 Edition

Document Download
Assessing Policy Barriers to Effective Public Health Response to the H1N1 Influenza Pandemic 2010

Document Download
NSC Playbook for Early Response to High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents 2016

Document Download
Community Mitigation Guidelines to Prevent Pandemic Influenza 2017

Document Download
USNORTHCOM Branch Plan 3560 Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Disease Response 2017

Document Download
“Facilitated Group Discussion Group Response” Package from January 13, 2017 Presidential Transition Team exercise on pandemic preparations.

Document Download
Mitigating the Impact of Pandemic Influenza through Vaccine Innovation 2019

Document Download
Harvard Medical School: “Analysis of Hospital Traffic and Search
Engine Data in Wuhan China indicates
Early Disease Activity in the Fall of 2019″ (Note: This study made available through a Creative Commons License.)

Icon Document Download
USAID Flyer on the Global PREDICT Program, designed to provide early alerts of developing pandemics. Program canceled September 2019

Document Download
Crimson Contagion 2019


Document Download
Global Health Security Index Building Collective Action and Accountability October 2019

MedRxiv Archives

Study hosted by the MedRxiv archives, published as a pre-print pending peer review by the Universiata de Barcelona, June 13, 2020, reports finding traces of novel coronavirus in Barcelona, Spain, wastewater sample of March 12, 2019. To date this is the earliest known presence of the novel coronavirus.

Icon Document Download
Sentinel surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater anticipates the occurrence of COVID-19 cases

Tumori Journal

Study hosted by the Tumori Journal, conducted by the Italian National Cancer Institute (INT) and released November 16, 2020, which indicates that the Coronavirus was circulating in Italy as early as September 2019.

Icon Document Download
Unexpected detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in the prepandemic period in Italy

Additional Reading

The following article offers exceptional insight into the years previous to the Coronavirus pandemic, showing the amount of preparation various government and non-government agencies put into response planning for future pandemics.

Meatpacking Companies Dismissed Years of Warnings but Now Say Nobody Could Have Prepared for COVID-19

Prelude <> Nov/Dec 2019 <> January 2020 <> February <> March <> April <> May <> June <> July <> August <> September <> Source Data

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