From Wuhan to the White House: A Timeline of COVID-19's Spread

COVID-19 has spread quickly around the world, causing more than 1 million deaths and infecting more than 41 million people as of Oct. 23, 2020, according to Johns Hopkins' Coronavirus Resource Center. It's already hard to remember life before COVID-19—but it was only 10 months ago that a doctor in China sounded the alarm about a new respiratory virus. Since then, cases have been confirmed in nearly every country and on every continent except Antarctica. The United States today has the most COVID-19 cases in the world.

From Wuhan to the White House: A timeline of COVID-19’s spread
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The story of how COVID-19 spread so far and so fast is a story of government secrecy, delayed action, polarizing politics, and a highly contagious disease. To better understand what has happened and what might follow, Stacker constructed a timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic from its first mention by Dr. Li Wenliang in Wuhan, China. Our timeline includes information from a range of sources including news outlets such as the New York Times and CNN, science articles, and releases from the World Health Organization (WHO). Keep reading for more information about the COVID-19 pandemic and a better understanding of how a highly contagious virus became a global health crisis.

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Dec. 30, 2019: Chinese doctor sounds the alarm
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Dec. 30, 2019: Chinese doctor sounds the alarm

Li Wenliang, a doctor working at Wuhan Central Hospital in Wuhan, China, sent out a text to a group of other doctors warning them to protect themselves against a new respiratory virus. Four days later, police summoned him and told him to sign a letter accusing him of false comments and disturbing the social order. Li died of the virus on Feb. 7.

Dec. 31, 2019: Chinese health authorities notice mysterious cases of pneumonia
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Dec. 31, 2019: Chinese health authorities notice mysterious cases of pneumonia

In the meantime, the government of Wuhan did in fact confirm that its health authorities were treating dozens of cases of pneumonia from an unknown origin. Several of the infected people worked at Wuhan's Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people in China's Hubei province and had become the start and center of a new epidemic.

Jan. 4, 2020: WHO starts tracking illnesses in Wuhan
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Jan. 4, 2020: WHO starts tracking illnesses in Wuhan

The WHO announced on Jan. 4 it would start actively tracking a mysterious group of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China. The organization's China office was first notified of the illnesses Dec. 31, 2019. By Jan. 5, the WHO issued its first publication on those cases. reporting on the status of patients and the response of public health officials.

Jan. 11: The first coronavirus death is reported
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Jan. 11: The first coronavirus death is reported

The first known death from the virus was reported by the Chinese state media. The victim was a 61-year-old man who was a regular customer at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market and had underlying issues including "abdominal tumors and chronic liver disease."

Jan. 13: The virus spreads to other countries
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Jan. 13: The virus spreads to other countries

The first case outside of China was confirmed Jan. 13 in Thailand. Within the week, cases were found in Japan, South Korea, and—on Jan. 20—the United States. The first American case was in Washington State where a man in his 30s developed symptoms after a trip to Wuhan.

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Jan. 23: Wuhan is locked down
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Jan. 23: Wuhan is locked down

By Jan. 23, 17 people in China were dead and more than 570 were infected. In response, the Chinese government locked down Wuhan to prevent further spread of the virus. Planes and trains in and out of the city were canceled while all bus, ferry, and subway services within the city were suspended.

Jan. 30: WHO declares a Public Health Emergency
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Jan. 30: WHO declares a Public Health Emergency

By Jan. 30, 9,800 people had been infected and 213 died around the world; the WHO declared the 2019-nCoV outbreak a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern." The next day, the administration of President Donald Trump suspended entry into the United States for anyone who had traveled to China in the past 14 days who wasn't an American citizen, family of an American citizen, or a permanent resident.

Feb. 2: First death outside of China
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Feb. 2: First death outside of China

This first death reported outside of China was a 44-year-old man in the Philippines. He had traveled to the Philippines from Wuhan. By this point, more than 360 people died from the virus.

Feb. 5: Cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Japan
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Feb. 5: Cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Japan

The Diamond Princess cruise ship became quarantined off the coast of Yokohama, Japan, after passengers became ill. Officials began testing passengers and, by Feb. 13, there were 218 confirmed cases on board—the largest number of positives outside China.

Feb. 11: The disease gets a new name
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Feb. 11: The disease gets a new name

The WHO gave the disease caused by the novel coronavirus a new name: COVID-19. It was was chosen because it did not refer to a geographical area, animal, or group of people and because it was relatively easy to pronounce. The WHO wanted to "guard against the use of other names that might be inaccurate or stigmatizing."

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Feb. 14: First death in Europe
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Feb. 14: First death in Europe

The first COVID-19 death in Europe took place in Paris. The victim was an 80-year-old Chinese tourist and it was the first death outside of Asia. On the same day, Egypt became the first African country to report a case.

Feb. 19: COVID-19 arrives in Iran
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Feb. 19: COVID-19 arrives in Iran

Iran reported there were two coronavirus cases in the country and that both had resulted in the patients' deaths. The source of the virus in Iran is not known. One day later, on Feb. 20, the WHO reported the number of global cases to be roughly 75,000.

Feb. 23: Cases of COVID-19 explode in Italy
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Feb. 23: Cases of COVID-19 explode in Italy

By Feb. 23, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Italy had grown from five to more than 150. The Lombardy region in the north of the country was the hardest hit, and officials locked down 10 towns in the area, closing schools and canceling events.

Feb. 26: First case reported in Latin America, more cases in Europe
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Feb. 26: First case reported in Latin America, more cases in Europe

A 61-year-old man from São Paulo, Brazil, who had recently returned from Italy tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, more and more cases were reported in Europe. Two days later, other countries with reported infections were Belarus, England, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, Northern Ireland, Switzerland, and Wales.

Feb. 28: Cases spike in Europe, first U.S. death
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Feb. 28: Cases spike in Europe, first U.S. death

By Feb. 28, there were more and more cases reported in Europe. At this time, 800 patients had been confirmed infected in Italy, and cases in 14 other countries could be traced back to Italy as well. On the same day, the United States confirmed its first COVID-19 death in Seattle.

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March 7: Death toll continues to rise
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March 7: Death toll continues to rise

By March 7, COVID-19 had killed nearly 3,500 people and infected 102,000 in more than 90 countries. Iran became one of the worst situations totaling 4,747 cases and 124 deaths.

March 11: WHO declares COVID-19 to be global pandemic
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March 11: WHO declares COVID-19 to be global pandemic

In response to the quick spread of COVID-19, the WHO declares the outbreak to be a global pandemic. In a briefing, WHO director-general said, "We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus."

March 11: Trump announces a European travel ban—sort of
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March 11: Trump announces a European travel ban—sort of

As the epicenter of the virus shifted from China to Europe, President Trump made an announcement saying he would block all travelers from European countries except Britain for 30 days. He walked the statement back a few hours later, saying that this would not apply to U.S. citizens, residents, or their spouses, but not before many travelers had spent thousands on tickets to return home.

March 13: Trump declares a national emergency
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March 13: Trump declares a national emergency

President Trump declared a national emergency and said he would make $50 billion available to states and territories to fight COVID-19. By this time, the global death toll had passed 4,600 and there were 126,100 confirmed infections worldwide.

March 15: Europe shuts down
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March 15: Europe shuts down

In response to the virus' quick spread, some Western European countries began to shut down nonessential businesses. In Spain, which had the second-highest death rate in Europe after Italy, residents could only leave home to buy essential supplies or to work. In France, cafes, restaurants, bars, shops, and cinemas were closed.

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March 19: China reports no new local infections
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March 19: China reports no new local infections

China reported no new local infections, a signal that China's epidemic could be winding down. However, although no new local infections were recorded, there were 34 new infections confirmed among patients who had traveled to China from elsewhere. On the same day, Italy overtook China as the country with the most deaths worldwide.

March 20: Deaths exceed 10,000 globally
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March 20: Deaths exceed 10,000 globally

Confirmed deaths from COVID-19 exceeded 10,000 worldwide. Cases began to rise exponentially, for example, from 2,958 to 13,957 overnight in Germany. China had a second day with no new domestic cases reported.

March 23: United Kingdom locks down
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March 23: United Kingdom locks down

While the United Kingdom had initially considered a "herd immunity" approach to COVID-19, the country eventually decided to follow the lead of the rest of Europe and close all non-essential stores, ban meetings of more than two people, and require people to stay at home except to buy food or medicine.

March 24: India, a country of 1.3 billion people, shuts down
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March 24: India, a country of 1.3 billion people, shuts down

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown. At the time, the number of cases reported in the country of 1.3 billion people was around 500. Some migrant workers were forced to walk hundreds of miles back to their homes.

March 24: Tokyo Summer Olympics postponed
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March 24: Tokyo Summer Olympics postponed

It was announced that the Tokyo Summer Olympics would be postponed for one year in response to COVID-19. This was the first time Olympic games have been canceled since World War II. Only three games have been canceled since the beginning of the Olympics, all due to wars.

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March 25: U.S. government announces $2 trillion aid plan
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March 25: U.S. government announces $2 trillion aid plan

After negotiations, the White House and Congress came to an agreement on a $2 trillion aid plan to help businesses, workers, and the health care system. The plan passed the Senate in a unanimous 96-0 vote.

March 26: Record unemployment filings in U.S.
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March 26: Record unemployment filings in U.S.

It was reported that a record 3.3 million people in the United States filed for unemployment the previous week. This was a rise of more than 3 million from the previous week, which saw unemployment claims by just 281,000 people. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said unemployment could reach 20% due to COVID-19.

March 26: Global COVID-19 cases surpass 500,000
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March 26: Global COVID-19 cases surpass 500,000

Over 500,000 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed around the world. In Europe, the number of cases exceeded 250,000, more than half of which were in Italy and Spain. Italy's death toll reached 8,215.

March 27: U.S. surpasses Italy for most cases worldwide
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March 27: U.S. surpasses Italy for most cases worldwide

With 82,000 known cases, the United States officially had more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than any other country in the world. New York state was hit especially hard, with half of the total cases nationwide. New York City alone had 23,000 cases and 365 deaths.

March 27: Nearly half of all Americans under lockdown
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March 27: Nearly half of all Americans under lockdown

In response to the country's rapidly growing numbers, the local governments of the United States put roughly half the population under some kind of lockdown. Twenty-three states issued stay-at-home orders and 10 other states and territories ordered nonessential businesses to close.

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April 2: Over 1 million confirmed cases worldwide
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April 2: Over 1 million confirmed cases worldwide

The number of global COVID-19 cases doubled over a week and surpassed the 1 million mark. The United States alone contains over 20% of these cases, and the disease had now claimed the lives of more than 50,000 people around the world.

April 5: First U.S. animal tests positive for the virus
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April 5: First U.S. animal tests positive for the virus

A tiger at New York's Bronx Zoo tested positive for the coronavirus after being exposed to a zookeeper who wasn't showing any symptoms. Nadia, a 4-year-old Malayan tiger, is the first animal in the United States to test positive for the virus, and the first coronavirus case found in a tiger.

April 13: Global COVID-19 case count surpasses 2 million
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April 13: Global COVID-19 case count surpasses 2 million

Less than two weeks after the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases surpassed 1 million around the world, the global case count eclipsed 2 million. The United States continues to have the most coronavirus cases, with more than 600,000 confirmed, and over 25,000 Americans have died as a result of the pandemic.

April 14: Trump halts funding to WHO
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April 14: Trump halts funding to WHO

Trump announced that he will halt U.S. funding for the WHO until a review into its handling of the coronavirus is complete. The president said he believes the WHO was slow to respond to the initial outbreak of the virus in China and this is what led to a global pandemic. The U.S. is currently the WHO's largest donor, pledging nearly $900 million in the past two years.

April 15: Stimulus bill begins to help Americans
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April 15: Stimulus bill begins to help Americans

Nearly three weeks after the White House approved the coronavirus stimulus bill, eligible U.S. residents began receiving their $1,200 stimulus check payments. This followed on the heels of increased unemployment benefits, another aspect of the relief package to help the millions of Americans out of work.

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April 19: Nursing home deaths pass 7,000
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April 19: Nursing home deaths pass 7,000

Two months after the first coronavirus cases were found in a Seattle home, The New York Times revealed that at least 7,000 people have died in nursing or long-care homes, accounting for one-fifth of the virus' death toll in America. Due to scarce resources and overcrowded facilities, many Americans most susceptible to catching the disease are not receiving the proper health care and support that they need.

April 20: Trump announces ban on U.S. immigration
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April 20: Trump announces ban on U.S. immigration

Trump announced on Twitter that he was finalizing an executive order to temporarily prevent new immigrants from coming to the United States while the U.S. economy struggles to recover during the pandemic. In July the White House announced Green Card restrictions but backed down from guest working visa suspension after an outcry from the business community.

April 20: Protests to reopen the country erupt across America
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April 20: Protests to reopen the country erupt across America

After most states were on lockdown for weeks, residents in over a dozen states took to the streets to express their disapproval of the continuous stay-at-home orders. Protestors had different reasons behind their frustrations, but many were citing the negative economic consequences of closing most businesses. Others were tired of having their movement restricted by the government and public health officials. Some just wanted haircuts.

April 21: Georgia draws scrutiny with plan to reopen the state early
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April 21: Georgia draws scrutiny with plan to reopen the state early

Georgia's governor, Brian Kemp, decided to start reopening the state at the end of April, with some essential businesses dine-in restaurants reopening late in the month. Georgia joined fellow Southern states Florida and South Carolina, who relaxed their stay-at-home orders and started reopening their public beaches. Public health officials made dire predictions about the spread of COVID-19 once restrictions were lifted, which came true.

April 23: President signs off on $484 billion small-business stimulus bill
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April 23: President signs off on $484 billion small-business stimulus bill

Most of the funds from the $484 billion bill went toward the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides loans for small businesses so they can keep paying their workers. Additional funding went to hospitals and coronavirus testing, as well as providing loans for farms and ranches.

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May 4: J. Crew files for bankruptcy
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May 4: J. Crew files for bankruptcy

Clothing and accessories company J. Crew, founded in 1957, announced it had filed for bankruptcy on May 4. It was the first major retailer to do so, with many more following suit.

July 9: Cases continue spiking and reaching new record highs
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July 9: Cases continue spiking and reaching new record highs

Continuing a spike in cases that began in June as more states reopened their businesses, the United States set a record for new COVID-19 cases for the third consecutive week. States that saw the worst outbreaks between June and July were Arizona, California, Florida, South Carolina, and Texas, with their combined case counts surpassing record mid-April numbers. The seven-day average of reported COVID-19 deaths in these five states also rose by 51% between June 8 and July 8, even as this number fell in all other states combined.

July 23: US passes 4 million cases nationwide
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July 23: US passes 4 million cases nationwide

As more states grappled with record-high numbers of new COVID-19 cases, the United States passed 4 million cases and 145,000 deaths nationwide, jumping from 3 million cases just 15 days prior. President Donald Trump also announced the cancellation of parts of the Republican National Convention, planned for mid-August in Florida, due to COVID-19. The announcement came in tandem with Olivier Lacan, Florida data expert and COVID-19 Tracking Project volunteer, predicting that Florida would surpass New York—once the epicenter of the pandemic—in total number of cases. The prediction came true days later.

August-September: Congress fails to pass new COVID-19 relief bill
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August-September: Congress fails to pass new COVID-19 relief bill

With COVID-19 and increased unemployment still prevalent in the United States, Americans have been asking for a new relief bill, hopefully providing another stimulus payment and extending the $600 unemployment insurance that expired on July 31. However, Congress has stalled at passing a comprehensive economic stimulus package since the CARES Act in March. House Democrats and Senate Republicans have not been able to agree on how much this new bill should cost, and how much of those funds should go toward unemployed Americans, state funding, and struggling businesses. It's growing more unlikely that there will be any new relief bills before Election Day on Nov. 3, as both chambers of Congress are supposed to be in recess for most of October.

August 17: U.N.C. Chapel Hill goes online one week after reopening
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August 17: U.N.C. Chapel Hill goes online one week after reopening

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of the largest U.S. college campuses to reopen for in-person classes, was forced to close again when 177 students tested positive for COVID-19 just a week after classes began on Aug. 10. The 30,000 student campus will now be fully online. Colleges and their students have been struggling to figure out how to have a proper education during a pandemic. While some colleges, such as the University of California college system have switched to online learning for the entire year, other universities have decided to re-open with enforced mask mandates. U.N.C. closing, however, has shown the struggles parents, students, and teachers face as schools and universities struggle to hold classes while keeping their students and faculty safe.

August 26: Abbott antigen test approved
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August 26: Abbott antigen test approved

As Americans wait days—and sometimes weeks—for the results of COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, some experts are turning to antigen tests as a potential strategy for faster and cheaper mass testing. Antigen tests look for a specific piece of the coronavirus' structure, rather than identifying its genetic material, which makes these tests quicker to run, but less precise, than PCR tests.

The Abbott Diagnostics antigen test is the most recent of four such tests to receive Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA. This test does not require any complex equipment, and gets patients results in only 15 minutes. The Trump Administration purchased 150 million of the new tests, to be put to use as soon as Abbott can manufacture them.

September 16: CDC releases vaccination playbook
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September 16: CDC releases vaccination playbook

Though some epidemiology experts say this timeline is unlikely, the Trump Administration has instructed state and local public health agencies to prepare for COVID-19 vaccine distribution in October or November. The CDC's Vaccination Program Interim Playbook provides logistical details about this potential release, from what supplies the CDC will send public health agencies to how vaccination data will be collected and reported. Notable insights include: multiple vaccine manufacturers will most likely have vaccines approved around the same time, each vaccine will likely require two doses (three to four weeks apart), and all vaccines will be distributed to the American public free of charge.

September 19: U.S. death toll passes 200,000
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September 19: U.S. death toll passes 200,000

Six months after most of the country implemented COVID-19 lockdown measures, NBC News reported that the United States surpassed the 200,000 mark. This came at the heels of Bob Woodward's book coming out, in which the journalist wrote that Trump had been concerned about the coronavirus in early February, but downplayed it to the American public and did not have a national response until March. The book was based on several interviews conducted between Woodward and Trump, and while his staff say that the president downplayed the virus in order to not incite unnecessary panic, some researchers believe that fewer people would have died if the country started social distancing and quarantining just a week earlier.

October 2: COVID-19 reaches the White House
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October 2: COVID-19 reaches the White House

Early in the morning on October 2, President Donald Trump announced that he and the First Lady had tested positive for COVID-19. Later that day, Trump was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he received the antiviral drug remdesivir and experimental COVID-19 treatments, including an antibody cocktail from the company Regeneron. He returned to the White House on October 5, and resumed public appearances on October 10.

Meanwhile, the White House has been linked to 38 other COVID-19 cases as of October 14, according to the White House COVID-19 Tracker, an independent visualization project compiling news reports on this outbreak. These cases include Trump administration officials, high-profile politicians, and journalists in the White House press corps.

October 12-13: Medical trials paused
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October 12-13: Medical trials paused

Johnson & Johnson, one of the first American pharmaceutical companies to produce a COVID-19 vaccine, paused its clinical trial on October 12 due to an illness in one of the study's 60,000 patients. The next day, Eli Lilly, another pharmaceutical, paused its 300-person trial of a potential COVID-19 treatment which mimics the body's natural immune response to the disease, due to a safety concern from the FDA.

Both pauses are natural parts of the scientific process; as clinical trials include hundreds (or even thousands) of people, scientists must take every possible precaution to ensure the safety of their patients. Pauses are usually not communicated to the public, but as American institutions race to bring safe vaccines and life-saving treatments to the public, every small hurdle in this complicated process is under immense scrutiny.