A year into the coronavirus pandemic, the enormous changes in our lives have become unremarkable: The collection of fabric masks. Visits with friends or family only in small outdoor gatherings. Working or learning from home. Downtowns deserted at noon on a weekday.
While some changes happened gradually, there was one day that marked the beginning of the new normal.
March 11, 2020.
On that day in the United States, the pandemic future arrived all at once.
A historic day begins with other news
March 11 was a Wednesday. Joe Biden had won primaries the night before in Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi and Missouri, putting him on a path toward clinching the Democratic nomination. Bernie Sanders said he was staying in the race, despite his disappointing results.
The big news in the morning — and what was expected to be the top headline of the day — was the sentencing of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Sitting in a Manhattan courtroom, Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape and sexual abuse.
Two days earlier, stocks had tumbled in reaction to Saudi Arabia cutting the price of oil, spurring the market's worst drop since 2008.
And the coronavirus — which had already sparked lockdowns in China and Italy — had become a major concern in the U.S. The first case in the U.S. was announced on Jan. 21 in Everett, Washington. On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency.
Some schools in the U.S. had already closed, affecting about 850,000 students. And some Americans were trying to figure out whether to cancel the expensive cruises they had booked — days earlier, the State Department had put out a warning against such travel, following outbreaks on several ships.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had issued guidance on getting tested for the virus, but it was hard to figure out where such tests might be available. And there were — as there continue to be – instances of racism and xenophobia targeting Asian Americans as fears of the virus spread through the U.S.
Dr. Fauci testifies: "It's going to get worse"
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC, had been called to testify about the coronavirus on March 11 before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Observers in the chamber sat shoulder to shoulder, and there was not a mask in sight.
"Is the worst yet to come, Dr. Fauci?" asked Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the committee chairwoman.
"Yes, it is," Fauci replied. He explained that the U.S. was seeing more cases from both community spread and international travel.
"I can say we will see more cases, and things will get worse than they are right now," Fauci said. "How much worse we'll get will depend on our ability to do two things: to contain the influx of people who are infected coming from the outside, and the ability to contain and mitigate within our own country."
The virus had by then infected more than 1,000 people in 40 states. At least 31 people in the U.S. had died from COVID-19, most of them in Washington state.
"Bottom line," Fauci said, "it's going to get worse."
WHO declares a pandemic — and stocks plunge
In Geneva, the WHO was holding a briefing. Eight countries, including the U.S., now had more than 1,000 cases.
"In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
"WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction," he said.
"We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic."
The stock market reacted quickly to the new designation: the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 1,200 points.
By the end of the day, the Dow was down more than 20% from its peak in February – and had entered bear market territory. An 11-year bull market had come to an end.
In prime-time Oval Office address, Trump bans travel from Europe
At 3:18 p.m., with the pandemic now official and stocks cratering, President Donald Trump sent out a tweet: "I am fully prepared to use the full power of the Federal Government to deal with our current challenge of the CoronaVirus!" He said he would address the nation from the Oval Office that evening.
At 9:02 p.m., Trump began his remarks: "My fellow Americans: Tonight, I want to speak with you about our nation's unprecedented response to the coronavirus outbreak that started in China and is now spreading throughout the world."
"This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history," he continued. "I am confident that by counting and continuing to take these tough measures, we will significantly reduce the threat to our citizens, and we will ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus," he said.