AUSTIN (KXAN) — March 4, 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the first presumptive case of COVID-19 in the state of Texas. Here’s a look back at the major milestones in what was a tumultuous year in Texas.
March 4, 2020: First presumptive case of COVID-19 in Texas. The case — a man in his 70s — was reported in Fort Bend County. The man had traveled abroad and became ill after his return to Texas.
“While we know this news is concerning, it is not unexpected,” Fort Bend Health and Human Services director Dr. Jacquelyn Johnson-Minter said at the time. “We have watched the numbers increase daily across the U.S., and it was just a matter of time before Texas announced its first case.”
March 5, 2020: “Texas now has the ability to test for COVID-19.” Six testing labs opened in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston and Lubbock. The state lab in Austin could test up to 26 patients a day. Labs in El Paso and Houston could test up to 15 patients, and Dallas and Lubbock could test about 10 patients per day. Four other labs would soon come online, making up the Laboratory Response Network. Collectively, they would test more than 125 people per day.
March 6, 2020: SXSW canceled. “I’ve gone ahead and declared a local disaster in the city, and associated with that, I have issued an order that effectively cancels South by Southwest.” That’s how Austin Mayor Steve Adler broke the news in a news conference. The festival organizers later put out a statement: “‘The show must go on’ is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 24 years that the March event will not take place.”
March 11, 2020: COVID-19 declared a pandemic. World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom said the organization was “deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.” Later that day, President Donald Trump announced a suspension of all travel to the U.S. from Europe, excluding the United Kingdom.
COVID-19 arrives in Central Texas
March 13, 2020: First cases in Travis County. “Austin and Travis County has joined a seemingly growing number of cities and counties that have positive cases in their area,” said Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority at Austin Public Health.
Austin ISD and many other Central Texas school districts canceled classes that Friday and started spring break early. Some students have never returned to class nearly a year later.
University of Texas president Greg Fenves said his wife had tested positive.
March 13, 2020: Gov. Abbott declares state disaster. “I am at this moment declaring a state disaster for all counties in the state of Texas,” the governor said in a news conference. “This will authorize the use of all available and necessary state government resources to help prepare and respond to COVID-19.” At that time, Texas had reported 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
March 16, 2020: Gov. Abbott waives STAAR test. “With regard to so many school closures, it’s just going to be impossible to implement the STAAR test this year,” the governor said. The Texas Education Agency said it was “the first ever instance of a STAAR cancellation.”
March 16, 2020: First death reported in Texas. Matagorda County officials reported a man in his late 90s died with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Hospital officials later received confirmation that he tested positive.
“We are deeply saddened today learn that a fellow Texan has died from COVID-19,” Gov. Abbott said. “The First Lady and I send our deepest condolences and prayers to the family and loved ones during their time of mourning.”
March 17, 2020: Austin imposes restrictions on bars and restaurants. The City of Austin and Travis County mandated that all restaurants had to close dining rooms and only serve food via takeout, drive-thru or delivery. Bars had to close all common spaces and could no longer allow alcohol consumption. “We know today’s order will create huge hardships for many, and we resolve to do all we can to address the economic impact this virus is having,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. “But public health must remain our first priority, and the experts tell us these are steps we must take.” Meanwhile, the governor activated the Texas National Guard to assist in the state’s response to COVID-19.
March 19, 2020: Gov. Abbott issues statewide mandates. The governor announced an executive order, putting into effect several statewide mandates. Texans were told to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people. Gyms, restaurants and and bars were closed, but could provide service through drive-thru, pickup or delivery options. Nursing home visitation was banned, except when providing critical assistance. And all schools in Texas had to temporarily close.
March 20, 2020: Troubles with the TWC. KXAN’s Jody Barr reported on the headache thousands of Texans were faced with when trying to file for unemployment benefits through the Texas Workforce Commission. The agency told KXAN it was working to upgrade its servers to handle the influx of traffic. On March 18, the commission saw 50,000 website visitors, compared to just 10,000 on a typical day. Unemployment applications in the Austin area between March 1 and March 18 climbed 450 percent higher than the same time in 2019.
March 22, 2020: “We are running out of protective equipment.” “We need masks, gloves, gowns,” said Dr. Paula Requeijo, Chief Medical Officer of Austin-based Elite Patient Care. Gov. Abbott acknowledged the shortage in a news conference:
“We have the money for it, but the supplies are not available for us to purchase,” the governor said. “We are asking the federal government to accelerate production and supply of personal protective equipment.”
March 24, 2020: Austin-area stay-home order takes effect. All non-essential businesses in the City of Austin, Travis County and Williamson County were forced to close. Dr. Mark Escott with Austin Public Health called it a “basic and necessary step.”
March 26, 2020: New York travel quarantine imposed. Gov. Abbott issued an executive order requiring all airline passengers arriving in Texas from New York, New Jersey or Connecticut to self quarantine for 14 days. The same order applied to travel from New Orleans.
First person dies of COVID-19 in Central Texas
March 27, 2020: First death confirmed in Travis County. A woman above the age of 70 was the first Travis County resident to die from COVID-19. Officials said she had significant underlying health conditions. On the same day, Texas reported a total of 23 deaths statewide.
March 31, 2020: Social distancing order extended. While Gov. Abbott did not call it a stay-home order, he did mandate social distancing protocols through the end of April and closed schools through May 4. Only essential businesses were allowed to remain open.
April 5, 2020: Travel quarantine from Louisiana. Checkpoints staffed by Texas state troopers were set up at border crossings with Louisiana. All travelers had to complete a travel form asking where they planned to self-quarantine for two weeks. An executive order by Gov. Abbott gave DPS the right to check those addresses to verify travelers were adhering to quarantine rules.
April 9, 2020: Texas surpasses 10,000 confirmed cases. At the time, 199 deaths had been reported statewide.
April 17, 2020: Gov. Abbott announces phased reopening. “We’re now beginning to see glimmers that the worst of COVID-19 may soon be behind us,” the governor said in a news conference. He announced an executive order that created a statewide strike force to reopen Texas. “In opening Texas, we must be guided by data and by doctors. We must put health and safety first. We must prioritize protecting our most vulnerable populations,” the governor said.
Texas starts to reopen businesses across the state
May 1, 2020: Phase I of reopening begins. Businesses, retail stores, restaurants and movie theaters were allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity. It was up to individual businesses to decide whether they wanted to reopen. As Ben Siegel, owner of Bangers, told KXAN, “You’ve got a very real threat to human life on the one hand, and then a very real threat to livelihoods on the other.”
May 2, 2020: Recoveries overtake active cases. As of May 2, 14,891 recoveries and 14,784 active cases were reported in Texas. It was the first time that the number of recoveries was higher than the number of people actively sick. At the time, Texas had reported 30,522 confirmed cases and 847 deaths.
May 5, 2020: Gov. Abbott announces salons can reopen. As part of Phase I, the governor announced barber shops and salons could reopen starting May 8, followed by gyms on May 18.
“It will be difficult with masks on to work around, but we’ll make it work,” said Felicia Finch, a hair stylist from Cedar Park. “I don’t want to be in your face just as much as you don’t want to be in mine.”
May 8, 2020: Texas surpasses 1,000 deaths. A total of 36,609 cases had been reported.
May 13, 2020: Thunderbirds fly over Austin. As part of Operation America Strong, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flew over Central Texas, honoring essential and frontline health care workers.
“When we fly over all of the hospitals along our route, it is not six red, white, and blue aircraft that are saluting those professionals, first responders, and essential workers; it’s essentially the United States of America,” said Capt. Kyle Oliver.
May 18, 2020: Phase II of reopening begins. In a news conference, Gov. Abbott announced child care facilities, massage parlors and youth clubs could reopen immediately. Bars, bowling alleys, bingo halls and aquariums would follow on May 22 at 25 percent capacity. Meanwhile, restaurants moved to 50 percent capacity.
“Our goal is to find ways to coexist with COVID-19 as safely as possible,” the governor said.
June 3, 2020: Phase III of reopening begins. Businesses operating at 25 percent capacity, including bars, were allowed to increase occupancy to 50 percent. Restaurants expanded to 75 percent on June 12.
“We have strategies in place that all four doctors on our team approved of to make sure that we will be able to continue to expand business in Texas,” Gov. Abbott said in a live interview with KXAN.
Huge spike in COVID-19 cases, deaths across Texas
June 15, 2020: “There has been an increase in the number of people testing positive.” “We have seen an increase in the number of people in their 20s testing positive,” Gov. Abbott said in a live interview. “We believe that a lot of people have let down their guard. Summer’s here, things are opening up. They feel they can go out without having to wear a face mask, and they are not realizing this very important fact: COVID-19 still exists in Texas, in America and across the globe.”
June 19, 2020: Texas surpasses 100,000 cases. The state was reporting an average of 2,593 new cases each day. A total of 2,140 deaths had been reported statewide. In a June 22 news conference, Gov. Abbott said, “COVID-19 is now spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas, and it must be corralled.”
June 25, 2020: Elective surgeries suspended. All surgeries were suspended in Bexar, Dallas, Harris and Travis counties unless “medically necessary to correct a serious medical condition or to preserve the life of a patient.” The move was precautionary to help preserve hospital bed capacity. At the time, 5,102 Texans were hospitalized because of COVID-19.
June 26, 2020: Reopening paused; bars shut down again. In an executive order, Gov. Abbott shut down bars once again and rolled restaurant capacity back to 50 percent. In a live interview with KXAN, the governor said, “We really do believe that we should see some consequential results from the shutdown of bars, as well as these other locations.” At the time, Texas was reporting an average of 4,903 new cases per day. A total of 137,624 cases and 2,324 deaths had been reported statewide.
Texas becomes first Republican-led state to require masks
July 2, 2020: Mask mandate imposed. “Today, I am issuing a face covering requirement for all counties with more than 20 COVID cases,” Gov. Abbott announced in a video. “I know that wearing a face covering is not the convenient thing to do, but I also know that wearing a face covering will help us to keep Texas open for business.”
July 15, 2020: Schools can remain closed, TEA says. “Texas school districts are fully funded for total remote instruction in the event their local health authority orders closure of campuses,” the Texas Education Agency told KXAN. The announcement came days after an order by the TEA requiring schools to open buildings to in-person instruction for students who want it.
July 27, 2020: Nursing home data finally released. After months of refusing to release the names of senior facilities with COVID-19 cases, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission released the data on nursing homes, assisted living facilities and state-supported living centers. The data showed five facilities in Texas had more than 100 resident cases.
Aug. 6, 2020: Limited visitation allowed at nursing homes. HHSC announced outdoor visits would be allowed at nursing homes, as long as there were no active positive cases among residents and no cases among staff in the past 14 days.
“We’ll take a small victory. This is going to make a lot of families very happy,” said Mary Nichols, who helped start the group “Texas Caregivers for Compromise – Because Isolation Kills Too.”
Aug. 11, 2020: Texas hits half a million cases. At the time, the state was reporting an average of 6,936 new cases every day. Cases were declining after the summer peak. Meanwhile, 8,710 deaths had been reported statewide. That same day, Gov. Abbott announced the state would utilize more rapid tests, especially at nursing homes, but that positive rapid tests would be considered “probable” cases as opposed to “confirmed” cases.
Aug. 17, 2020: Texas reports 10,000th death. The state was reporting an average of 221 deaths per day.
Texas starts to reopen more businesses, eventually reopening bars
Sept. 17, 2020: Business capacity expansion announced. In a news conference, Gov. Abbott announced expanded capacity at restaurants, retail stores, office buildings, gyms, museums and libraries in regions with low hospitalizations. Bars were excluded from the order. To qualify for expansions, COVID-19 hospitalizations in a hospital region had to account for less than 15 percent of all hospitalizations for seven days in a row. At the time, only the Laredo, Victoria and Lower Rio Grande Valley hospital regions were above the 15 percent threshold.
Oct. 8, 2020: First death related to MIS-C. An 18-year-old in the San Antonio area was the first death in Texas from an illness that strikes after a COVID-19 infection. Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) is a “rare but serious complication associated with COVID-19,” according to DSHS. The illness causes different body parts to become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes and gastrointestinal organs.
Oct. 14, 2020: Bars allowed to reopen. In an executive order announced a week prior, Gov. Abbott allowed bars to reopen in counties where county judges gave their approval. To qualify for consideration, counties had to be in regions with low hospitalizations. Bars had to stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m.
Oct. 16, 2020: State resources sent to West Texas amid surge. “As the Amarillo and Lubbock communities see a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations, the State of Texas is providing support to hospitals throughout these two regions,” Gov. Abbott said. At the time, 88.5 percent of ICU beds in Potter and Randall counties were occupied. Resources were also sent to the El Paso region the following week after a surge there.
Texas passes grim milestone: one million confirmed cases
Nov. 13, 2020: Texas surpasses 1 million confirmed cases. At the time, Texas was averaging 7,700 new cases per day. Meanwhile, 19,320 deaths had been reported statewide.
Nov. 19, 2020: Antibody therapy treatment arrives in Texas. Bamlanivimab, a drug for patients “at high risk of progressing to severe COVID-19” was first sent to the Lubbock area.
“The goal is to give it to people at such an early date during their infection that it keeps them out of the hospital,” Gov. Abbott said.
Dec. 2, 2020: Texas prepares for vaccine distribution. “The State of Texas is already prepared for the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine and will swiftly distribute these vaccines who voluntarily choose to be immunized,” Gov. Abbott said. The initial allotment was more than 1.4 million doses.
Vaccines finally arrive, bringing hope
Dec. 14, 2020: First vaccines administered in Texas. Healthcare workers were the first to receive doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. UT Health Austin began distributing vaccines the day after.
“I felt a little emotional, honestly,” said Dr. Chris Moriates, assistant dean of the Dell Medical School, after receiving his shot. “It’s something that seemed like it would be a long way off, so for it to be here now is really encouraging.”
Dec. 19, 2020: Texas surpasses 25,000 deaths. The state was reporting an average of 209 deaths per day at the time.
Dec. 22, 2020: Gov. Abbott receives vaccine. “I want to show my fellow Texans that it’s safe and easy to get the vaccine, and also remembering that I will never ask any Texan to do something that I’m not willing to do myself.”
Dec. 29, 2020: Texas surpasses 1.5 million cases. Just 46 days after hitting 1 million cases, the state reported 1.5 million confirmed cases. The same day, a record 26,990 cases were reported in a single day.
Huge surge in COVID-19 cases following holidays as variants arrive, hospitalizations peak
Jan. 5, 2021: “The entire state is in surge.” Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin Public Health, made that announcement during a Travis County Commissioners Court meeting. “We need a substantial change in policy to more aggressively mitigate the spread because what we’re doing right now isn’t working.” At the time, Texas was reporting an average of 15,069 new cases per day.
Jan. 7, 2021: First case of UK variant in Texas. A Harris County man became the first Texan known to be infected by the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant. The man had no history of travel, suggesting the UK variant was already circulating in Texas.
Jan. 11, 2021: Hospitalizations hit peak. A record 14,218 Texans were hospitalized because of COVID-19. The summer peak had been 10,893, on July 21, 2020.
Jan. 14, 2021: 1 millionth vaccine dose administered. Texas was administering an average of 68,571 doses per day.
Jan. 27, 2021: Texas surpasses 2 million confirmed cases. The state was reporting an average of 14,490 new cases per day. Meanwhile, 35,168 deaths had been reported statewide.
Feb. 12, 2021: More than 1 million Texans fully vaccinated. That constituted just 4.62 percent of all Texans over the age of 16.
Texas announces end of mask mandate
March 2, 2021: “It is now time to open Texas 100 percent.” Gov. Abbott announced that all business in Texas could fully reopen on March 10. He also said the statewide mask mandate would end on March 10.
“COVID still exists in Texas, in the United States and across the globe,” Abbott said. “But it is clear from recoveries, from the vaccinations, from the reduced hospitalizations and from the safe practices that Texans are using, that state mandates are no longer needed.” It was later reported that Gov. Abbott only consulted with one of the four doctors serving on his Open Texas Strike Force team.
March 4, 2021: One-year anniversary of the first presumptive case in Texas. So where do things stand now? More than 2.3 million Texans are confirmed to have contracted COVID-19. Another 359,000 were classified as probable cases. Over the past year, more than 43,000 Texans have died from COVID-19.
The good news is that vaccinations are ramping up. So far, almost 6 million doses have been administered to people across the state. As it stands now, more than 2.1 million Texans are fully vaccinated, comprising 9.37 percent of Texans aged 16 and above. Another 1.7 million people have received their first dose.