Timeline: Reflecting on One-Year Anniversary of California’s Response to COVID-19 Pandemic


On January 26, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the first COVID-19 case in California. Exactly one year later, California has the most positive cases of any state.

The first confirmed case, an Orange County resident who had recently traveled to Wuhan, China, was merely a ripple in the evolution of a worldwide pandemic. Less than a week after the initial diagnosis, a Santa Clara County resident, who also had traveled to Wuhan, was confirmed as the state’s second case.

On Feb. 6, a woman from San Jose became the first COVID-19 death in the U.S.

As of Feb. 1, 2021, more than 26 million people had tested positive for COVID-19 in the U.S. and deaths exceeded 441,000, according to the CDC. In California alone, more than 3 million had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and more than 40,000 deaths, per the California Department of Public Health.

With the post-holiday surge behind, positivity rates trending down, and vaccines being rolled out, there is hope on the horizon. However, in a short year, the COVID-19 pandemic has scarred the nation and forever impacted families, businesses and the economy.

Below is a timeline of COVID-19 events and California’s response to the pandemic since January 2020:



  • On Jan. 29, the U.S. Department of State evacuated 195 employees, their families and other U.S. citizens from China on a flight to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County.
  • Within the same week of the initial flight, another 345 U.S. citizens were evacuated from the same province, this time directed to two separate air bases in California, Travis Air Force Base in Solano County and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.


  • More than a thousand passengers aboard the Carnival Grand Princess cruise ship endured an outbreak of COVID-19. The cruise ship originally departed from San Francisco on Feb. 11 for a trip through the Mexican Riviera. During that trip, which ended Feb. 21, three people developed COVID-19.


  • Governor Gavin Newsom declared a State of Emergency on March 4 to assist in preparing for a broader spread of COVID-19.
  • On March 12, the Carnival Grand Princess docked in the Port of Oakland and systematically began disembarking passengers, followed by a two-week quarantine period before going home.
  • On March 16, Governor Newsom issued an executive order redirecting California agencies to protect licensed facilities, staff and residents most vulnerable to COVID-19, and also authorized local governments to halt evictions, slow foreclosures, and protect against utility shutoffs.
  • Governor Newsom signed emergency legislation on March 17 to provide up to $1 billion in funding to help California fight COVID-19. The funding increased hospital bed capacity and purchased medical equipment; protected hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities most vulnerable to the COVID-19 spread; supported local government to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in homeless populations and provide safe beds for people experiencing homelessness; and provided funding to clean child care facilities that remained open.
  • On March 18, California launched a new comprehensive user-friendly website (covid19.ca.gov) to promote critical steps Californians can take to stay healthy and resources available to those impacted by the outbreak.
  • On March 19, Governor Newsom asked President Trump for the immediate deployment of the USNS Mercy Hospital Ship to the Port of Los Angeles through September 1, 2020, to help decompress the state’s health care delivery system in Los Angeles in response to COVID-19. That same day, Governor Newsom issued the first stay-at-home order, a critical tactic to help protect the health and well-being of all Californians and to establish consistency across the state in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • President Trump approved California’s request for a presidential Major Disaster Declaration on March 22 to bolster California’s COVID-19 emergency response efforts. The Major Disaster Declaration made federal funding available to state, tribal and local governments for emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, and made funding available for crisis counseling for impacted individuals. The next day, California awarded $100 million to cities, counties and continuums of care to help people experiencing homelessness during COVID-19 pandemic.


  • Governor Newsom announced an agreement with teachers, classified employees and school system management to support student instruction during the pandemic, including the prioritization of providing students with access to distance learning.
  • Project Roomkey, a first-in-the-nation initiative, was launched to secure hotel and motel rooms to protect homeless individuals from COVID-19.
  • California loaned 500 state-owned ventilators to the national stockpile to offset shortages in other states.
  • Governor Newsom announced a new program aimed at providing hotel rooms to frontline healthcare workers who had exposure to or test positive for COVID-19 at low or no cost.
  • California business, labor, health care and community leaders joined together to form a task force on business and jobs recovery.
  • California invested $42 million to protect foster youth and families impacted by COVID-19, including $27.8 million to ensure families stay together.
  • Cal OES partnered with FEMA to bolster personal protective equipment (PPE) decontamination capabilities by deploying new sterilization systems throughout California.


  • California reached the 1 million mark for conducting diagnostic tests for COVID-19, averaging more than 35,000 tests daily.
  • The USNS Mercy hospital ship departed from the Port of Los Angeles after transmission slowed significantly in the Los Angeles region.
  • The Employment Development Department (EDD) announced $23 million in funding to help with employment recovery efforts, assisting nearly 3,200 workers with temporary employment and job training services.


  • The California National Guard surpassed 50 million meals distributed in weight, after approximately 70 days of operation during the COVID-19 humanitarian response.
  • To reduce the spread of COVID-19, California Department of Public Health released guidance on requiring Californians to wear face coverings in most settings outside of their home.
  • Having successfully created a stable, reliable pipeline of life-saving PPE, California delivered millions of additional surgical masks to aid out-of-state partners.
  • In the next phase of protecting Californians from COVID-19, nearly $1 billion was committed to purchasing hotels, motels, vacant apartment buildings and tiny homes and providing services to the homeless.


  • Governor Newsom reactivated four alternate care sites – Imperial Field Medical Site, Seton Medical Center, Fairview Development Center and Porterville Development Center – to serve as a resource for California’s adult and senior care facilities and the surrounding community.
  • Strengthening the state’s response to COVID-19, California purchased 420 million new protective masks
  • A new test site was opened in Kern County aimed at serving the Central Valley. The Bakersfield location has surge testing capabilities with the ability to conduct 5,000 tests per day.


  • More than $81 million was committed to support isolation and quarantine efforts in communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
  • Governor Newsom signed an executive order to increase the state’s testing capacity. The order expedited efforts by the Department of General Services and the Department of Public Health to establish and operate up to three sites for use as laboratories.
  • Unveiling the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, Governor Newsom and public health officials detailed a plan to impose risk-based criteria on tightening and loosening COVID-19 allowable activities and expand the length of time between changes to assess how any movement affects the trajectory of the disease.


  • Governor Newsom signed an executive order extending consumer protections against price gouging through March 4, 2021. The protections generally prohibit sellers of any kind from increasing prices on food, consumer goods, medical or emergency supplies, and certain other items by more than 10 percent.
  • Washington and Oregon joined California in a pilot project using Google and Apple exposure notification technology to slow the spread of COVID-19. The app confidentially notifies individuals who may have been exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus.
  • The California Department of Public Health, along with the California Department of General Services and the California Department of Technology, unveiled an innovative solution to support the collection and transportation of COVID-19 specimens to a state laboratory for processing. The solution should result in a better user experience that is seamless, timely, cost-effective, and convenient.


  • State public health officials announced that smaller theme parks, outdoor sporting events, and personal care services were permitted to re-open with limited operations based on their county tier.
  • Governor Newsom cut the ribbon on a new $25 million Valencia laboratory that enabled an additional 150,000 COVID-19 tests to be processed daily.


  • On Nov. 13, due to the rising number of positive cases, West Coast states issued travel advisories recommending 14-day quarantines for inter-state and international travel. California, Oregon, and Washington urged residents to stay local with the holidays approaching.
  • Ahead of Thanksgiving, Governor Newsom issued the state’s first-ever Social Innovation Impact Report, highlighting innovative public-private-partnerships that contributed $3.9 billion toward the state’s housing efforts, COVID-19 response and more.
  • A new plan to help businesses impacted by COVID-19 was unveiled to provide temporary tax relief and $500 million in new COVID-19 grant funding for small businesses.


  • California laid out new criteria for issuing regional stay-at-home orders. On Dec. 11, the first cell phone alert was sent to the Greater Sacramento Region, once ICU capacity dropped below 15%.
  • Governor Newsom launched the “Vaccinate All 58” campaign on Dec. 14 as the first batch of vaccine shipments arrived in the state. Front-line health care workers and residents of long-term care settings would receive the vaccine first, followed by the most vulnerable to the virus.
  • California received its largest PPE donation to support essential workers. ICU Health’s donation of 5 million disposable masks and 5 million face shields came at a critical point in the pandemic as skyrocketing cases pushed healthcare systems near capacity.
  • Governor Newsom announced a major Project HomeKey milestone with the closing of escrow on all 94 projects, representing over 6,000 units of permanent housing for individuals experiencing homelessness.
  • On Dec. 30, Governor Newsom unveiled California’s “Safe Schools for All” plan designed to expand safe in-person learning in early spring.
  • As cases surged, a state technical assistance team was created to assist the strained hospital systems in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Joaquin counties. The state initially deployed more than 1,200 medical personnel and later eclipsed more than 4,000 personnel in early 2021 to enhance COVID-19 response efforts.