COVID-19 two years later: First US case reported in Washington state

This week marks two years since COVID-19 changed lives in Washington state, across the country and throughout the world.

On Jan. 19, 2020, a Snohomish County man in his 30s went to an urgent care clinic with symptoms of pneumonia and samples were collected and sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The following day, his test results came back positive, and he was taken to Everett’s Providence Regional Medical Center to be treated.

On Jan. 21, 2020, the CDC confirmed and announced this was the first case of coronavirus in the U.S. 

Origin of COVID-19 "novel coronavirus"

According to the CDC, the man had returned from a trip to Wuhan, China after visiting family and arrived at Sea-Tac International Airport asymptomatic. In mid-December 2019, the CDC reported a cluster of patients in Wuhan were experiencing shortness of breath and a fever.

After confirming the virus could spread human-to-human, the World Health Organization announced the official name of the disease causing the coronavirus outbreak: COVID-19. It was an abbreviation of coronavirus disease 2019.

On Feb. 29, 2020, King County officials announced the first death in the U.S. from COVID-19. The person who died was a man in his 50s who had underlying health conditions but had no history of travel or contact with a known COVID-19 case.

After the first reported death, King County health officials reported a COVID-19 outbreak at a Life Care Center facility in Kirkland, it became the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

RELATED: COVID-19 cases continue to climb at Kirkland nursing facility

On March 11, 2020, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Shortly after, former President Donald J. Trump declared a nationwide emergency and U.S. states began to shut down to prevent the spread of the virus.


President Donald Trump speaks during a COVID-19 briefing in the James S. Brady Briefing Room at the White House on July 21, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Inslee issues "stay-at-home" order in Washington state

Gov. Jay Inslee issued a stay-at-home order for the state’s 7 million residents to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The order closed non-essential businesses for at least two weeks, banned large gatherings, closed bars and dine-in restaurants.

RELATED: Washington state’s stay-at-home order at a glance

At that time, more than 2,000 cases were confirmed in Washington state and at least 110 people died.

Some states started to partially reopen despite concerns from health officials. Inslee extended the order and unveiled a 4-phase plan to reopen the state but school would remain physically closed for the remainder of the school year.

Inslee paused the phased reopening plan indefinitely during the summer of 2020 and eased COVID-19 restrictions for some businesses in the state. 

Western Washington entered a fall surge after the state reported a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases. In response, Inslee issued and extended COVID-19 restrictions.

COVID-19 vaccines get "emergency use authorization" from FDA

In late 2020, the Food and Drug Administration issued Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. The first COVID-19 vaccines were administered in December, which would be the first steps to returning to normalcy during the pandemic. By the end of the year, more than 1 million people in the U.S. were vaccinated, according to the CDC.

At the start of 2021, Inslee announced a new reopening plan based on counties and not regions, but indoor dining was still banned. He also urged schools to open more in-person learning.

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The COVID-19 vaccine was widely distributed and mass vaccination sites started to open. At that time, Inslee announced all Washington counties could move to phase three of the reopening plan by the end of June if 70% of residents had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Also during the spring, the CDC announced fully vaccinated people could travel safely domestically in the U.S. without a COVID test first. The agency also said that fully vaccinated people could gather indoors without masks.

Delta variant arrives in U.S.

During the summer of 2021, the delta variant became the dominant variant in the U.S. and kicked off a third wave of infections. A CDC study showed that among people previously infected with COVID-19, re-infection was less than half as likely among those who were vaccinated after their first infection. 

In June 2021, Inslee announced a "Shot of a Lifetime" program, a vaccine lottery with $2 million in cash prizes, trips, scholarships and more for people who were vaccinated. 

RELATED: Omicron vs. delta: Study examines difference between two coronavirus variant symptoms

The city of Seattle and King County announced an indoor vaccine requirement for restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, and other entertainment venues in September. The mandate also applies to outdoor events with more than 500 people in attendance.

In the fall of 2021, the CDC endorsed the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ recommendation for COVID-19 booster shots. In November, the agency recommended that everyone over 18 years old who received a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine should get a COVID-19 booster shot 6 months after they are fully vaccinated.

Rise of the omicron variant

As people were advised to get booster shots, the WHO declared a new variant, omicron. According to the CDC, the variant has several mutations in the spike protein that concerned scientists globally. 

Washington state hospital leaders said that omicron became the dominant COVID–19 strain in King County and Western Washington. 

RELATED: Omicron now dominant virus strain in King County, Western Washington

The omicron variant surge resulted in backups at several testing sites, and at-home COVID-19 test kits were hard to find.

With the start of the new year, several school districts and colleges in Washington returned to remote learning in response to the omicron surge.

On Jan. 18, 2022, a federal website where people could request free COVID-19 tests went live. And a day after, the Biden Administration will start making 400 million N95 masks available for free to Americans to help protect against the omicron variant. 

RELATED: Free government COVID test kits now available: Everything you need to know

Two years later, hospitals in Washington state have been in their worst situation since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Hospitals have stopped non-urgent procedures and Inslee deployed the Washington National Guard across the state to assist hospitals and set up testing sites.

As of this week, Washington state has reported more than 1 million cases and more than 10,000 deaths over the last two years.

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