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(NEW YORK) — March marks two years since the coronavirus pandemic upended life across the globe.
Although the nationwide quarantine was initially meant to last only 14 days, in the hope of slowing down the spread of the virus, two weeks eventually turned into a two-year ordeal, lasting far longer than health experts had initially predicted.
“Two years ago, I, like many other people, thought that restrictions would be over in two months. If someone told me we would still be wearing masks after two years — and effective vaccines — I probably would have done things a little differently,” David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told ABC News.
“Part of what has made this so exhausting is that we’ve thought, time and again, that the end of the pandemic was just a month or two away. But we’ve finally come to realize that a ‘pandemic end date’ just isn’t coming anytime soon,” Dowdy added.
Although studies now demonstrate that the virus had already commenced its rapid spread across the country in late 2019, many Americans were still completely unaware of what the “novel coronavirus” was, and of the looming health crisis — one that would underscore the lack of national and global preparedness to deal with such a pandemic.
It was only when positive cases reached U.S. soil that most Americans began to take notice of the growing crisis.
Former President Donald Trump was quick to try to quell concerns, repeatedly telling the public that the situation was under control.
“It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear,” Trump predicted in late February 2020. “The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.”
However, the spread of the virus would soon soar to unprecedented levels, in a rapid escalation that led states and cities to shut down, and families to retreat to their homes.
Now, despite the creation of vaccinations and treatments, there have been nearly 965,000 American lives confirmed lost to the virus.
Early predictions from the Trump Administration in late March of 2020 estimated between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans could lose their lives, though the president told reporters at a White House briefing that he believed the death toll would be “substantially below” 100,000.
Many experts believe that the current COVID-19 death totals are undercounted due to inconsistent reporting by states and localities, and also by the exclusion of records of excess deaths — a measure of how many lives have been lost beyond what would be expected if the pandemic had not occurred.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since Feb. 1, 2020, there have been more than one million excess deaths.
March 1, 2020: New York confirms its first COVID-19 case
New York was hit hard in the early weeks of the pandemic. On March 1, 2020, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. New York City would, in a matter of weeks, become the nation’s viral epicenter, with COVID-19-positive patients soon overwhelming hospitals, and city morgues, leaving the Big Apple at a standstill, shuttering businesses and creating a mass exodus from the city’s boroughs to surrounding suburbs.
“This is a different beast that we’re dealing with. It is going to be weeks, and weeks, and weeks, weeks and weeks. This is going to be a long day, and it’s going to be a hard day, and it’s going to be an ugly day, and it’s going to be a sad day,” Cuomo warned the public during one of his press conferences that March.
March 6, 2020: Trump proclaims ‘anybody’ can get a COVID-19 test
In the days that followed, there would be a growing demand for COVID-19 tests, across the country, as more Americans began to exhibit symptoms.
However, despite a March 6, 2020, proclamation by Trump that “anybody that wants a test can get a test,” the demand for COVID-19 testing would soon outpace the supply.
It would take seven months before the U.S. would ramp up testing enough to test one million Americans a day.
“Though two years of a pandemic has yielded significant scientific achievements in vaccines, therapeutics and testing, it has also unearthed huge deficits in public health infrastructure and our health care systems’ ability to deliver high quality equitable care. We were never properly prepared and even after 24 months we consistently underestimate this virus,” John Brownstein, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and an ABC News contributor, said Wednesday.
At the time, there were still no antiviral treatments or vaccines available to support health care workers as they faced an onslaught of patients in need.
March 9, 2020: Stock market circuit breaker sends shock waves across the country
By March 9, there were more warning signs that the virus would soon wreak havoc on the country, when an automatic circuit breaker safety mechanism was activated to stop stock prices from free falling.
Markets fell rapidly within minutes of the stock market opening, forcing a temporary halt to trading. The 15-minute pause was triggered after the S&P 500 plunged by more than 7%.
“The only way to avoid a recession would be a quick and very aggressive fiscal policy response by the Trump administration,” Moody’s Investor Services chief economist Mark Zandi told ABC News’ Rebecca Jarvis at the time. “But this seems unlikely as the administration continues to significantly downplay the severity of the crisis.”
March 11, 2020: WHO declares COVID-19 a ‘pandemic’
The World Health Organization’s announcement on March 11, 202 that it had shifted its characterization of the virus to “pandemic,” marked a turning point in the pandemic.
That same day, Trump announced the U.S. was restricting travel by foreign nationals who had traveled to 26 specific European countries.
And on that night, the NBA announced it would suspend its season due to a COVID-19 outbreak, following a mid-game suspension of play between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, while actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, on a shoot in Australia, announced, from isolation, that they had been diagnosed with coronavirus.
March 12, 2020 and the months that followed: A national and global shutdown
Starting March 12, 2020, Broadway theaters went dark for more than a year, after New York Gov. Cuomo announced that no gatherings of more than 500 people would be allowed, excepting schools, hospitals, mass transit, and nursing homes.
The National Hockey League suspended its season, and President Trump declared a national emergency in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
In the weeks and months that followed, millions of Americans would contract the virus, and hundreds of thousands would die.
“While many would like to declare this pandemic over at the two-year mark, we are still far from an acceptable state with over a thousand dying a day from this virus. Sheer exhaustion with public health mandates is not a reason to declare victory,” Brownstein said Wednesday.
Health experts stress that the virus will not go away overnight, and it will likely take years for the globe to fully recover from the pandemic.
“It’s going to take us a long time to recover mentally and emotionally from this pandemic,” Dowdy said. “As time goes on, those ‘near normal’ times will become the norm, and waves of disease and death the exception. We just may have a few more waves to ride before we get there.”
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