COVID-19 Timeline, December 2019 through February 2020

This research document is being prepared by Chiron Return, Inc., an affiliate of the Pacifica Radio Network.


The novel coronavirus was first detected in early December in Wuhan, China.

The initial outbreak was first reported in China on December 31 to the World Health Organization (WHO) at the end of December, but neglected to mention growing evidence that the virus could spread by human-to-human transmission through airborne droplets.

By January 10, a Shanghai laboratory had sequenced the virus’ genome.

German scientists produced the first diagnostic test a week later.

January 17, the WHO publishes its protocols, based on the German test https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/protocol-v2-1.pdf?sfvrsn=a9ef618c_2

Jan. 20: The United States has its first confirmed case of coronavirus through travel: a man in Washington State.

“We have it totally under control.”– President Trump, in an interview, on Jan. 22

The CDC shared the details of the U.S. test publicly on Jan. 24.

Jan. 24 The C.D.C. says that it has developed a sophisticated diagnostic test and has sought F.D.A. permission to send it to public labs around the country.

[when exactly?] CDC issued narrow guidance on which patients qualified for a test — only those with recent travel to Wuhan or those who had come into contact with an infected person.

Jan. 28 Op Ed by Luciana Borio, the former head of medical and biodefense preparedness at the National Security Council, and Scott Gottlieb, who led the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from May 2017 to April 2019: Act Now to Prevent an American Epidemic – Quarantines, flu vaccines and other steps to take before the Wuhan virus becomes widespread. “[T]he CDC will struggle to keep up with the volume of screening. Government should focus on working with private industry to develop easy-to-use, rapid diagnostic tests that can be made available to providers.” [The CDC did the opposite, issuing narrow testing guidelines.] https://www.wsj.com/articles/act-now-to-prevent-an-american-epidemic-11580255335

Jan. 29 The White House announces a coronavirus task force led by the health secretary, Alex M. Azar II. President Trump attends the group’s first meeting and tweets that the experts “are on top of it.”

Jan. 31, Azar declared a “public health emergency,” announcing travel restrictions — including barring noncitizens who had recently visited China from entering the United States — in an effort to curtail the virus’s spread inside the country. The declaration triggered emergency testing protocols, which increased restrictions on which labs could make a coronavirus test. Any lab would be required to acquire an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA to perform testing for covid-19. The FDA granted the CDC the first EUA.

The World Health Organization began shipping its tests out to countries during the first week of February.

Early February – Stanford University develops its own test for the coronavirus but runs into regulatory roadblocks at the F.D.A.

The US opted to develop its own test, but the distribution was limited.

Other countries, like China, developed their own tests as well.

The US test was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on February 4 — around two weeks after the first case was reported in Washington and more than a month after the outbreak was first reported in China.

Early” CDC test couldn’t distinguish between coronavirus and water: https://www.businessinsider.com/early-coronavirus-cdc-tests-distinguish-covid-water-2020-3

Feb. 4: FDA issues EUA requiring CDC to retest all positive results. https://www.fda.gov/media/134919/download

CDC finally started to send kits to state and local health labs on 5 February.

The CDC-manufactured kits were sent to state labs on Feb. 6 and Feb. 7.

“We’re in great shape in our country. We have 11, and the 11 are getting better. ” -Trump, in remarks, on Feb. 10

But on 12 February, it revealed that several labs had difficulty validating the test because of a problem with one of the reagents. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/02/united-states-badly-bungled-coronavirus-testing-things-may-soon-improve

A problem with one ingredient in the US tests caused more than half of state labs to receive inconclusive results. Health experts said the glitch was unprecedented.

Azar testified on Feb. 13 that he intended to implement a pilot program, adding coronavirus surveillance to the existing flu surveillance networks. But it never came to fruition. There were not enough tests to make it happen.

By Feb. 16, the CDC and state public health labs tested nearly 1,600 specimens. As a rule of thumb, two specimens are required per person, meaning that in total, only about 800 people had been tested. That’s roughly 2.4 tests per million people in the United States.

Even as coronavirus testing remained limited nationwide, the CDC reminded hospitals on Feb. 18 that they shouldn’t do their own testing without an “emergency use authorization” from the FDA.

On Feb. 24, state public health labs made an unusual plea for the FDA to open testing.

The chief executive of the Association of Public Health Laboratories writes to the F.D.A. that “we are now many weeks into the response with still no diagnostic or surveillance test available outside of C.D.C. for the vast majority of our member laboratories.”

Feb. 24 – The head of the C.D.C. boasts to Congress about his agency’s “aggressive response” to screening.

A total of 12 other labs received EUAs from the FDA by late February.

On Wednesday [2/26], under pressure from health experts and public officials, the CDC and the FDA told labs they no longer had to worry about the portion of the test intended “for the universal detection of SARS-like coronaviruses.” After three weeks of struggle, they could now use the test purely to check for the presence of COVID-19. https://www.propublica.org/article/cdc-coronavirus-covid-19-test

“It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.” — Trump, in remarks, on Feb. 27

The FDA began allowing academic hospital labs to develop and use their own coronavirus tests on February 29.

On Saturday [2/29], the FDA announced an “accelerated policy … to achieve more rapid testing capacity in the United States,” allowing academic hospital labs capable of performing high-quality testing to develop and begin using their own tests to detect COVID-19. Before now, hospital labs weren’t sent test kits by the CDC and the FDA required an extensive review process even if the hospitals had internally validated their tests. Under the new policy, the FDA review will still be required, but labs will be able to start using their diagnostics once they are internally validated. https://www.propublica.org/article/cdc-coronavirus-covid-19-test

By March, doctors reported that they still hadn’t received enough tests to diagnose potential cases.

Researchers at the Seattle Flu Study said the number of cases in Washington may have reached 570 by March 1, but the stringent testing criteria meant fewer cases were reported.

On March 3, the restrictions on who qualified for a test were dissolved.

Vice President Pence said on March 4 that more than 2,500 kits were being distributed across the country that week — enough for 1.5 million tests.

By Sunday 3/4, the CDC had tested fewer than 2,000 people. South Korea and China, meanwhile, had tested hundreds of thousands.

“Anybody that needs a test, gets a test. They’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful.” — Trump, in remarks at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, March 6

By March 8, the United States reported 518 cases and had completed 3,099 tests, according to the Covid Tracking Project. That is roughly 9.5 tests per million people.

A long-term care facility in Seattle, home to one the biggest coronavirus outbreaks in the US, said it didn’t have enough tests for 65 symptomatic employees on Monday [3/9].

The CDC said coronavirus testing was available in all 50 states as of Monday [3/9].

In New York, where nearly 200 cases have been confirmed [as of 3/11], Gov. Cuomo says testing capacity is still limited.

On Sunday, March 15, [according to ProPublica: https://www.propublica.org/article/the-fda-is-forcing-the-cdc-to-waste-time-double-testing-some-coronavirus-cases; however, the letter I found is dated 3/30: https://www.fda.gov/media/136572/download] the Food and Drug Administration revised its Emergency Use Authorization to no longer require public health laboratories to send their tests to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation.

FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn said the government plans to ship 4 million additional tests by the end of next week [3/20].

As of March 28, exactly four weeks after the FDA loosened the rules for testing, the United States still performed only 2,250 tests per million

Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development put the failure simply: “The reason [the lack of testing] has been such a damaging shortcoming in the U.S. response is it basically left us blind to the spread of the virus in our country for about six or seven weeks.”

March 31 several doctors and professors made comments on the various types of tests and their efficacy: https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-comment-on-different-types-of-testing-for-covid-19)-/

Sources for facts without links:

Business Insider Timeline: https://www.businessinsider.com/us-coronavirus-testing-problems-timeline-2020-3

Washington Post Timeline: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/03/30/11-100000-what-went-wrong-with-coronavirus-testing-us/

NY Times Timeline: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/28/us/coronavirus-testing-timeline.html

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