COVID-19 timeline: Reflecting on how it began and how far we’ve come
Since diagnosing and treating the nation’s first-known case of community-transmitted COVID‑19, UC Davis Health has played important roles in clinical, research, and public health responses to the pandemic.
That first patient was an otherwise healthy person in their 40s, transferred to UC Davis Medical Center. Within 24 hours, the patient’s status continued to deteriorate.
At that time — early-to-mid February — the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was quickly picking up steam. UC Davis Health's infection prevention specialists in Sacramento had been preparing for the not-yet-named COVID-19 for more than a month by the time this patient arrived.
However, the patient didn't meet the criteria for testing set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Over the next several days, UC Davis clinicians ruled out all other potential causes, leading the CDC to authorize a COVID-19 test.
Two days later, the test came back positive. The case became the nation’s first clear example of community spread, and one of its first COVID-19 hospitalizations. When UC Davis announced this on Feb. 26, 2020, it made headlines around the world.
UC Davis has remained at the forefront of the global pandemic response ever since. Our teams are using their experiences and expertise in health, virology, engineering, and zoonotic diseases to tackle the crisis at all levels, and from all directions.
“Since that first day, every person at UC Davis Health has played a vital role as we confronted this unprecedented crisis,” said David Lubarsky, UC Davis Health’s CEO and the Vice Chancellor of Human Health Sciences for UC Davis. “They’ve shown the utmost grace under pressure, while serving our patients and collaborating with our community partners in the interest of public health — for everyone.”
A year of responding to novel coronavirus (COVID-19)
An outbreak of acute respiratory illness, linked to a novel coronavirus (COVID-19), emerges in China.
Jan. 22 – UC Davis Health pulls together a working group to begin planning for COVID-19 identification and case management.
Feb. 26 – UC Davis treats the first U.S. community spread case of COVID-19
UC Davis Health announces it is treating the first apparent case of COVID-19 acquired by community spread, driving changes to national testing guidelines.
Feb. 29 – The first suspected U.S. death is reported near Seattle.
Mar. 11 – The World Health Organization (WHO) declares a global COVID-19 pandemic.
Mar. 13 – The U.S. declares a national emergency.
Mar. 16 – California issues a sweeping stay-at-home order.
Mar. 24 – UC Davis Health sees more than 1,000 patients per day via telehealth video visit, a 5,000% increase in just two weeks.
Mar. 30 – Sharing lessons from our COVID-19 index case
UC Davis Health clinicians publish a case study about their COVID-19 index patient in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. UC Davis hematopathologists reported leukemia-like blood test results from the case. They advised fellow clinicians to order COVID-19 testing instead of cancer screenings for certain symptoms.
Setting state and national COVID-19 standards
UC Davis Health faculty help set comprehensive standards for COVID-19 pandemic-related patient care and workforce safety. Examples:
- Cardiothoracic surgeon David Cooke, assists in writing national COVID-19 guidelines for triage of thoracic surgery patients, through the American College of Surgeons (ACS) and thoracic societies.
- Surgery chair and ACS regent Diana Farmer, helps develop COVID-19 best practices and safety standards for surgeons.
- Otolaryngology chair Gregory Farwell, helps establish an American Head and Neck Society best-practices repository.
- Burn surgeons David Greenhalgh, and Tina Palmieri, and nurse manager Len Sterling, help U.S. burn centers plan for continuous burn care during ICU surges.
- Pediatrics chair Satyan Lakshminrusimha, neonatology chair Mark Underwood, and pediatric infectious disease professors Elizabeth Partridge, and Jean Wiedeman, help co-author COVID-19 guidelines in the American Journal of Perinatology.
Apr. 6 – Boosting California’s COVID-19 testing capacity
After steadily increasing its own testing, UC Davis Health is named to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 Testing Task Force, a public-private collaboration to increase statewide capacity. The health system can already run up to 400 tests per day. UC Davis Health works to expand into a high-volume testing hub with its Roche Diagnostics cobas 6800 robot.
Apr. 16 – Reporting the first trial of a promising antiviral
Preliminary results emerge from the first small clinical trial of the antiviral therapy remdesivir, conducted at UC Davis Health and hospitals worldwide. Nearly two-thirds of the severely ill, hospitalized COVID-19 patients who received the drug improved, with no new safety concerns. WebMD’s Chief Medical Officer interviews site principal investigator Stuart Cohen about the results, which are published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Larger, controlled trials follow, and remdesivir emerges as one of the most promising in the early field of potential treatments.
Apr. 29 – Testing begins on a potential COVID-19 vaccine
Biopharmaceutical company Verndari, Inc. announces the start of preclinical testing with the UC Davis’ Mouse Biology Program to evaluate a potential vaccine and dermal patch delivery system for COVID-19.
Apr. 29 – Plasma transfusions for COVID-19
Two UC Davis Health patients with COVID-19 receive transfusions from a blood donor who recovered from the virus. This is part of a national initiative investigating the potential benefits of convalescent plasma. It’s hoped the treatment may boost a sick patient’s ability to neutralize COVID-19 and its effects.
May 14 – Panel examines COVID-19 pandemic disparities
The UC Davis Health Office for Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion hosts a panel to explain reasons for health disparities related to COVID-19, and what can be done. Physicians at “COVID-19: Addressing Health Disparities in the African American Community” say that social determinants of health are a major reason African Americans and Latinos in California are infected with COVID-19 at rates higher than whites.
Mid-May – Helping in New York as it's overrun by COVID-19
Two emergency physicians, Alex Schmalz and Nick Sawyer, from UC Davis Health travel to Elmhurst Hospital in New York to help medical personnel overwhelmed by the large number of COVID-19 cases. UC Davis Health nurse practitioner Paula Wagner also volunteers her time for 13 days at a Brooklyn hospital.
May 19 – Tracking a troubling syndrome in children
UC Davis Children’s Hospital becomes part of an international group researching multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). Researchers deem this a new form of COVID-19 likened to toxic shock syndrome and Kawasaki disease.
May 21 – UC Davis Health performs 10,000th COVID-19 test
Clinical pathologists perform their 10,000th COVID-19 molecular test. UC Davis is able to test all hospitalized patients at UC Davis Medical Center to help ensure safety at the facility. The health system also processes tests gathered at community sites — which helps identify that working-age Latinos are getting infected and dying in disproportionately high numbers.
May 28 – U.S. COVID-19 deaths exceed 100,000.
July 20 – Testing an antibody cocktail
UC Davis Health announces a federal grant to test a new antibody combination as a possible therapy for reducing viral shedding and disease progression.
July 23 – A new ICU partnership in a hotspot county
UC Davis Health and Adventist Health Lodi Memorial partner to launch a 24/7 telehealth link between the Lodi hospital’s intensive care unit. The ICU has been caring for many COVID-19 patients in highly impacted San Joaquin County.
July 30 – Clinical guidance to help improve patient care
A primer on coronavirus and diagnostic errors becomes the latest COVID-19 clinical guide released by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Patient Safety Network (PSNet). It's co-edited by internal medicine professor Patrick Romano and nursing professor Debra Bakerjian. The primer aims to improve care for all patients and points out that delayed diagnosis can lead to delayed treatment or preventable COVID-19 transmission.
Aug. 12 – Part of a major COVID-19 vaccine trial
UC Davis Health partners with Pfizer Inc. and Germany based BioNTech SE to participate in a global study of an investigational COVID-19 vaccine. The first of the university’s 200 vaccine candidate participants receive their shots a week later.
Sept. 10 – Telehealth for at-risk Central Valley residents
The ACTIVATE initiative, a public-private pilot to bring telehealth services to underserved rural residents like farmworkers, is launched in Merced County.
Sept. 14 – Pushing to prevent a ‘twindemic’
To avoid overlapping respiratory illness and preserve hospital capacity for COVID-19 surges, UC Davis Health promotes the importance of flu vaccinations during the pandemic. Drive-through flu shot events also help boost participation.
Sept. 16 – Historic respiratory pandemic, meet historic wildfires
UC Davis pulmonologists help Californians understand how heavy wildfire smoke increases COVID-19 risks and which respiratory symptoms indicate COVID-19.
September – Military doctors battle against COVID-19
Emergency medicine physician and Army reservist Josh Elder returns from overseas deployment supporting special-ops troops with trauma care and COVID-19 prevention. He’s one of a number of UC Davis Health military members fighting against COVID-19 both home and abroad. In addition, emergency medicine physician and Air Force Lt. Col. Rory Stuart was awarded the Bronze Star for early COVID-response work in Afghanistan.
Sept. 28 – Global deaths from COVID-19 reach 1 million.
Oct. 1 – Free COVID-19 testing for Central Valley farmworkers
Four UC Davis research centers receive a $3.7 million NIH grant to test workers in the Central Valley, where the COVID-19 pandemic has reached alarming levels.
Oct. 12 – Can an antibody cocktail prevent COVID-19 infection?
UC Davis Health participates in a clinical trial of the Regeneron monoclonal antibody combination. But this time, the aim is to prevent infection in people with close exposure to a diagnosed patient, such as a household member.
Oct. 28 – UC Davis Health launches region's first clinic for long haulers
Nov. 12 – ‘Nothing else as fast and accurate’
UC Davis Health becomes the first in the region and among the first in the nation to use rapid, combined molecular tests at the point of care. The highly accurate rapid test can check for both COVID-19 and flu in minutes.
Dec. 7 – Another vaccine trial underway
UC Davis Health launches clinical trials for the easier-to-store Novavax COVID-19 vaccine. The overall trial prioritizes highly impacted groups such as Latino, African American and Native American communities.
Dec. 11 – First COVID-19 vaccine approved
The FDA authorizes the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use after data shows 95% efficacy.
Dec. 11 – A new COVID-19 exposure-warning app
The state of California rolls out CA COVID Notify. The Bluetooth-driven app sends anonymous notifications when users have been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. UC Davis and six other UC campuses pilot the project, based on Google and Apple’s exposure notification technology.
Dec. 15 – Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrives
As the U.S. death toll surpasses 300,000, UC Davis Health becomes among the nation's first health systems to receive an initial allotment of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. It begins inoculating frontline health care workers three hours later. California targets UC Davis Health for the vaccine due to its storage capability, highest-risk health care population, and community distribution ability.
Dec. 18 – The FDA approves the Moderna vaccine for emergency use.
Dec. 22 – Moderna vaccine arrives
In a dose of holiday good news, UC Davis Medical Center receives its initial allotment of the Moderna vaccine. Data from clinical trials suggests the COVID-19 vaccine is 94% effective.
Jan. 12 – UC Davis Health launches COVID-19 patient vaccinations
UC Davis Health announces it will begin vaccinating its patients. The initial group of patients is identified as the most vulnerable: those age 75 and older with underlying conditions.
Jan. 15 – Global COVID-19 deaths reach 2 million.
Jan. 26 – COVID-19 vaccinations expand for patients
Jan. 28 – Farmworker safety initiative
To help reduce the pandemic’s impacts on California’s 800,000 farmworkers, UC Davis launches the COVID-19 Statewide Agriculture and Farmworker Education training and safety program. The state-funded project is led by experts at the UC Davis Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, which includes investigators from the UC Davis School of Medicine and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Jan. 28 – Multiple COVID-19 clinical trials underway locally
The UC Davis School of Medicine announces it's actively recruiting for more than a dozen clinical trials in the search for new COVID-19 treatments.
Feb. 2 – Shielding a city from COVID-19
The Healthy Davis Together COVID-prevention project is the most ambitious of its type in the country and could be a model for other universities, the New York Times notes in a feature article. The joint City of Davis-UC Davis initiative aims to facilitate a coordinated and gradual return to regular activities and reintegration of UC Davis students, while preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the Davis community.
Feb. 6 – Helping reach vulnerable communities
UC Davis Health partners with the Sacramento County Department of Public Health and Dignity Health to host the first of many planned community-based COVID-19 vaccination clinics, designed to reach vulnerable populations.
Feb. 21 – As U.S. deaths top 500,000, UC Davis Health delivers more than 50,000 COVID-19 vaccines.
Mar. 8 – CDC announces people who are fully vaccinated can start returning to normal life.
Apr. 1 – Californians 50 years and older are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
April 15 – Californians age 16 and older are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. However, Pfizer is the only approved shot for ages 16 and 17.
May 10 – Children can get the COVID-19 vaccine
The FDA gives emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine to be used in children ages 12-15.
June 15 – California reopens
After more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions, California lifts capacity limits and social distancing requirements. Vaccinated people are also allowed to be indoors without a mask.
A newer and more contagious strain of COVID-19, called the Delta variant, becomes of greater concern as areas across the U.S. see a spike in cases, even among vaccinated Americans.