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Timeline Of COVID-19 Cases During California's Outbreak

Inside a COVID-19 intensive care unit at LAC-USC Medical Center.
Courtesy of Nick Kraus/FRONTLINE (PBS)
Inside a COVID-19 intensive care unit at LAC-USC Medical Center.


— The Orange County Health Care Agency reports California’s apparent first case of COVID-19, a man who had traveled to Wuhan, China.



— The Feb. 6 death of a a San Jose woman is the first known U.S. death from COVID-19.

— A California resident becomes the first confirmed non-travel related case, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

— A Solano County woman becomes the first U.S. case involving community transmission, meaning she didn’t have any known contact through travel or with a known infected person.


— The number of confirmed cases in California increases. By month’s end, it will pass 7,000. As the caseload increases, Gov. Gavin Newsom declares a state of emergency. Several counties also declare local emergencies. On March 19, Newsom issues the nation’s first statewide stay-at home order, closing all nonessential businesses and restaurant dining. He writes President Trump to say 25.5 million Californians could be infected within two months. While cases are rising, they never come close to that level.



— California’s death toll from the virus tops 1,000 and climbs throughout the month. Confirmed cases are around 40,000.


— The state has seen more than 50,000 infections but new cases and weekly death tolls fall for the first time. Newsom praises Californians for helping slow the infection rate. Following a decline in hospitalizations, Newsom announces new criteria allowing larger counties to reopen more of their economies if they have the virus adequately in check. Within a month nearly every county in the state is approved for reopening large segments of their economies.


— Virus cases and hospitalizations rise across the state, leading Newsom to order some renewed social distancing restrictions as infections spike. COVID-19 cases are now reported in every county in the state. In late July, California has a record daily total of cases, topping 400,000 and overtaking New York for the most cases in the country. More than 7,000 deaths are recorded.


— Newsom says California is showing improvement in its fight against the virus, citing a lower number of confirmed new cases and a sharp dip in the hospitalization rate. Even so, by the end of the month California has the most confirmed virus cases in the nation at more than 700,000.


— Infection rates fall to their lowest level of the pandemic and by late in the month hospitalizations have dropped to a level not seen since the first week of April. The state is closing in on 800,000 confirmed cases and more than 15,000 deaths. But the declines prompt officials to loosen restrictions in many counties, with more businesses reopening.


— California has been seeing several thousand new cases a day but by mid-month the number of deaths ands hospitalizations drop. Some counties get state permission to cautiously ease coronavirus restrictions. However, infections and hospitalizations begin to inch up by the end of the month with the deadly winter surge to come.


— Newsom attends a birthday dinner at the exclusive French Laundry with lobbyists. Photos show there are more people than recommended by state guidelines, sitting closely together and without masks. Health officials plead with the public to stay home for the Thanksgiving holiday as hospitalizations rise. The governor orders almost all nonessential businesses to close. The state hits 1 million infections and more than 18,000 dead.


— The crisis prompts Newsom to create a conditional stay-at-home order for different regions of the state based on ICU bed capacity. Vaccine shipments start arriving as hospitalizations and deaths rise. Hospitals treat patients in makeshift tents, auditoriums, anywhere they can find space. California hits a record 2 million confirmed coronavirus cases on Christmas Eve as nearly the entire state is under a strict stay-at-home order.


— The new year starts on a grim note with funeral homes running out of space and 8,000 people in hard-hit Los Angeles County hospitalized. California hits 3 million cases and reports a one-day record of 764 COVID-19 deaths, but the rate of new infections starts to fall. Newsom lifts the regional stay-at-home home orders.

— Newsom expands vaccine eligibility to the general public, starting with people 75 and older, and taps insurer Blue Shield to operate a new statewide vaccine delivery system.


— California surpasses 50,000 dead and the Federal Emergency Management Agency opens its first joint mass vaccination sites in LA and Oakland. San Francisco sues its own school board to reopen classrooms as the governor pushes to get kids back in school. In the U.S., half a million people have died from the coronavirus.


— New case rates continue to plummet but vaccine supply remains extremely tight. It's clear residents are violating self-certified eligibility rules to get their shot at a confusing array of sites, including mass vaccination centers, pop-up clinics catering to the poor and pharmacies. Newsom announces that 40% of vaccine doses will go California's hardest-hit neighborhoods. Disneyland announces it will open in April.


— California reports the lowest average COVID-19 cases per capita in the country. Major League Baseball welcomes fans back to outdoor stadiums. The governor announces that indoor concerts and sporting events will reopen with limited capacity April 15, the same day everyone 16 and older becomes eligible for vaccination Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco begin welcoming students back into classes after more than a year of distance learning. The state sets a statewide reopening date of June 15.


— With continuing record-low cases, the governor aligns with CDC guidelines saying that fully vaccinated people don't have to wear masks outdoors unless in crowds. But he declines to adopt federal guidelines allowing fully vaccinated people to go virtually mask-free indoors.

— State officials confirm on May 21 that they will drop social distancing and nearly all other restrictions when the state reopens June 15. More than 61,000 people are dead from the virus.