The pandemic — one year later
With the end in sight, we look back on the milestones of a year like no other
One year ago this week, Virginians started bumping elbows instead of shaking hands. We raced about trying to find toilet paper and hand sanitizer and began washing our hands obsessively as a virus we’d only heard about in the news suddenly appeared in Virginia and would quickly transform daily life as we knew it.
Virginia’s first COVID case was identified on March 7, 2020, and the first death followed exactly a week later, on March 14, 2020. In between those two events, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.
By March 18-19, 2020, Virginia’s state universities and public schools had moved classes online. Metro reduced its service hours. State agencies and major companies like Capital One directed employees to stay at home and shift to telework, while restaurants, hotels and theaters closed their doors — some for a few weeks, others for good. Starting in mid-March 2020, the number of Virginians filing unemployment claims grew exponentially, as did the number of COVID-19 cases.
Virginians logged on Facebook to watch daily updates from Gov. Ralph Northam and State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver, who reported the latest COVID-19 statistics and urged residents to wash their hands, stay six feet apart and remain at home if possible. Virginians who worked at grocery stores and hospitals assumed the heavy mantle of heroes as they performed essential jobs under high risk of contracting the coronavirus.
As we enter month 13 of the pandemic, the end is in sight, with more than 18.5% of Virginians having received at least their first dose of coronavirus vaccine since December. But we cannot forget that the coronavirus has claimed close to 10,000 lives in Virginia and more than 528,000 lives nationwide.
Here’s a look back at the key dates, statistics and moments of a year like no other in recent memory.
- 589,375 total COVID-19 cases recorded in Virginia, as of March 10, 2021
- 24,925 people in Virginia hospitalized
- 9,849 deaths in Virginia
- 363 days under state of emergency declared by Gov. Northam in March 2020
- 104,619 Virginians filed initial unemployment claims during the peak week of April 18, 2020
- 63,998 Virginians remained unemployed according to continued claims filed the week of Feb. 27, 2021
- 44,568 hotel-related jobs gone as of September 2020
- 78,000 lodging industry jobs in Virginia expected to be lost before the pandemic is over
- 113,000 Virginia businesses collectively received $12.5 billion funding during the first two rounds of the Paycheck Protection Program
- 1.57 million Virginians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
- 2.42 million vaccine doses administered since December 2020
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- Feb. 27, 2020 — 59 people in the U.S. had confirmed cases of the coronavirus, which was first recorded in China in late 2019. Virginia had not yet seen its first case, but early effects were being felt. The University of Virginia issued warnings about traveling to countries with confirmed cases, including China, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea. Businesses canceled international travel and the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association recommended that employers remind workers about the importance of effective hand-washing and staying home when sick.
THE VIRUS ARRIVES
- March 7, 2020 — A U.S. Marine stationed at Fort Belvoir was Virginia’s first recorded COVID-19 case, swiftly followed by seven more cases, all in Northern Virginia. All eight cases were related to travel, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
- March 10 — Virginia’s colleges and universities started discussing moving all classes online, canceling in-person classes after spring break.
- March 11 — The World Health Organization declares the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.
- March 12 — Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency as the total number of cases among Virginia climbed to 17. Nearly 20 colleges and universities moved to virtual classes, and most large school systems closed to prepare for online learning as well. A day later, then-President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency.
- March 14 — Virginia reported its first coronavirus-related death, a man in his 70s from the Peninsula Health District.
- March 15 — Northam made his first executive order aimed at preventing spread of the virus, banning all events with more than 100 people across the state. More orders soon followed, including limiting restaurants, fitness centers and gyms to 10 patrons or fewer. Meanwhile, Dominion Energy Inc. suspended service disconnections and restaurants began voluntarily closing dining rooms.
- March 20 — Virginia extended its tax deadline by a month to June 1, 2020, and more than 16,000 Virginians filed unemployment claims.
- March 23 — The governor issued more restrictions, closing K-12 schools through the rest of the spring 2020 semester, directing all entertainment and recreation businesses to close, banning gatherings of more than 10 people, and limiting customers at “nonessential” businesses. Not even three weeks into the pandemic, more than 23,000 hotel jobs were lost, according to the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association.
UNDER ORDERS, UNDER PRESSURE
- April 2, 2020 — In one week, Virginia unemployment doubled. Nearly 159,000 Virginians filed claims in the last two weeks, compared with about 135,000 total in 2019.
- April 11 — A little over a month into the pandemic, Virginia saw more than 5,000 total coronavirus cases; 141 people had died, including 42 at one nursing home in Henrico County.
- April 15 — With the state under a stay-at-home order until June 10, 2020, Gov. Ralph Northam said life wouldn’t return to normal any time soon, at least until a vaccine or better treatment became available for COVID-19. Meanwhile, Virginia banks had received about 30,000 applications from businesses requesting $6.6 billion in Paycheck Protection Program funds, as the federal government anticipated the $349 billion fund would run out in less than two weeks.
- April 22 — The General Assembly gathered for its veto session — but not in its usual space. Delegates voted under tents on the state Capitol grounds, while the state Senate convened at the Science Museum of Virginia. In this session and one in the late summer, legislators made significant budget adjustments due to the financial downturn. Meanwhile, protesters demanded lawmakers reopen the state.
- May 8 — Northam announced the first phase of his Forward Virginia reopening plan would go into effect on May 15, 2020, allowing retail stores and houses of worship to open at 50% capacity and restaurants to offer outdoor dining with 50% seating capacity. A group of diverse business people from multiple industries and regions advised the governor and determined industry-specific safety measures.
- May 29 — Northam’s mask mandate for all Virginians ages 10 and older went into effect, requiring face coverings in all retail stores, hair salons and restaurants, as well as on public transportation, government offices and other indoor, public spaces. The shift from recommendation to order launched a political firestorm as some Republicans — including President Trump — eschewed wearing masks, saying it was unnecessary.
- June 10 — At the close of Northam’s stay-at-home order, the state gradually allowed many businesses to partially reopen. Positivity rates had fallen, and testing was more widely available, as was personal protective equipment (PPE). International pharmaceutical companies were engaged in developing vaccines.
In September, 2020, the state created a vaccine advisory group to make distribution plans. Virginia’s first delivery of Pfizer Inc. vaccine doses arrived in December 2020, earmarked for frontline medical responders, followed shortly by workers and residents in long-term health care facilities. Meanwhile, both in Virginia and across the nation, case numbers spiked again after a few months of relative respite, partly due to holiday gatherings in November and December. Deaths spiked as well, causing a ripple effect even now as the Virginia Department of Health works through death certificates and updates the numbers in its COVID database.
As of March 2021, Northam and state health department officials say they are confident that all adult Virginians will have access to COVID-19 vaccines by the end of May, an event that will herald the approach of projected herd immunity. But COVID-19 variants remain a wild card.
The federal government has recently approved more funding for individuals and business owners just as unemployment benefits and other federal programs expire. But the pandemic’s full impact likely won’t be known for a long time, including its effect on industries, education and jobs here in Virginia.