But an ominous cruise ship with passengers infected with COVID-19 circled off the coast of California. Within weeks, the Grand Princess – and the initial efforts by the state and the federal governments to bar it from coming ashore – became a symbol of America’s misguided belief that it could keep the disease out.
Nightmarish scenes we had witnessed in China and Italy reached America, and the nation snapped to attention. Nursing homes near Seattle became the sites of the first deadly U.S. outbreak. The elderly and frail suffered alone. The photo shows an octogenarian with COVID-19, stretched out in a hospital bed, blowing her family a kiss through a window.
The World Health Organization declared the crisis a pandemic in March, and everything from college campuses to corporate headquarters cleared out. The NCAA announced that the rite of spring for so many Americans – its college basketball tournament – would be played before largely empty arenas, and then abruptly canceled it.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading expert on infectious disease, became a household name in daily news conferences. When he estimated in March that 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from the virus, horror was tempered by total disbelief. President Donald Trump touted hydroxychloroquine as a “game-changer,” but medical experts disagreed.
The lights stayed on in Times Square, but its legendary energy and crowds vanished. April felt like Armageddon in New York City; ambulances constantly blared down deserted streets, and body bags were forklifted into refrigerated trucks that parked outside hospitals where they served as makeshift morgues and stark symbols of death.