Pandemic Timeline: COVID's Sweep Through California Since January 2020

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A timeline of key events and milestones in California during the coronavirus pandemic from January 2020 until June 2021, culminating in the state's full reopening June 15, 2021:


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


Santa Clara County on Monday announced its first death from the coronavirus, according to the county Public Health Department. Damian Trujillo reports.


  • The number of confirmed cases in California continues to increase. By month's end, it will pass 7,000. As the caseload rises, Gov. Gavin Newsom declares a state of emergency. Several counties also declare local emergencies.
  • On March 9, a few days after the state of emergency was declared, the Grand Princess cruise ship docked at the Port of Oakland sparking worry and concern among Bay Area residents. The ship traveling from Hawaii to San Francisco was carrying more than 3,500 people from up to 50 different countries.
  • On March 15, Bay Area health officials issue a shelter-at-home order.
  • 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 that 25.5 million Californians could be infected within two months. While cases rose dramatically, they never come close to that level.
Raw chopper video shows the Grand Princess cruise ship, with at least 21 people on board infected with the coronavirus, enter San Francisco Bay on its way to the Port of Oakland.


  • 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 to reopen large segments of their economies.


  • Virus cases and hospitalizations rise across the state, leading Newsom to issue a mask order and renew some 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 have been 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, allowing more businesses to reopen.


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


Gov. Gavin Newsom apologized during a press conference Monday for attending a dinner party in Napa, Calif. The governor said he needs to "practice and preach, not just preach," and acknowledged he shouldn't have attended the gathering.


  • 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 recorded 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., a half-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 to 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 a limited number of 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 mask-free in most indoor settings.
  • 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 62,000 people are dead from the virus.
  • With millions still unvaccinated, California announces it will give away the country's largest pot of vaccine prize money -- $116.5 million in lottery jackpots and cash cards -- to tempt more people into getting shots before the state fully opens.


  • Most of California's population is now living under the least restrictive COVID-19 guidelines. Out of 58 counties, all but three are in the lowest two of the state's four color-coded tiers.
  • On June 15, California fully reopened its economy. The color-coded tiers are dropped. Restaurants, shopping malls, movie theaters, and most other places can open without capacity limits or social distancing requirements. Fully vaccinated people don't have to wear a mask in most places, although the unvaccinated must still mask up in public settings.
Copyright AP - Associated Press
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