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20 Key Events in 2020

Archived by Rachel Perzynski, Dramaturg

The Orroral Valley Fire viewed from Tugg

JANUARY. Australian Wildfires Devastate the Country 

Australian bushfires from December 2019 continued to rage across the country, leading to one of the most devastating wildfire seasons in history. The fires killed at least 33 people, destroyed 47 million acres, displaced thousands of residents, and affected nearly 3 billion animals. 

Microscopic view of the coronavirus. Spikes protrude from a spherical virion.

JANUARY 30. WHO Declares Public Health Emergency 

With the outbreak of novel coronavirus 2019 in the People’s Republic of China spreading to additional countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a public health emergency of international concern.

Screenshot of CSPAN’s live broadcast of

FEBRUARY 5. Donald Trump is Acquitted of Impeachment Charges

In January, Trump faced an impeachment trial on the charge that he asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, then one of the candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. Trump became the third U.S. president in history to have been impeached by the House of Representatives and tried in the Senate, which ultimately voted to acquit him. 


FEBRUARY 20-28. Global Stock Market Crashes

As the novel coronavirus spread, government officials took precautions that inadvertently shut down economic activity. On February 28, stock markets worldwide reported the largest single-week declines since the 2008 financial crisis. 

Photo of a heatmap by John Hopkins Unive

MARCH 11. WHO Declares COVID-19 a Pandemic

Based on the “alarming levels of spread and severity,” the WHO officially characterized COVID-19 a pandemic. At a media briefing, the Director-General of WHO called attention to theion to prevent further infections. Two days later, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency.

The Hamilton marquee at the Richard Rodg

MARCH 12. Broadway Shuts Down Due to COVID-19

Along with the state-wide ban on public gatherings of more than 500 people, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced a suspension of all Broadway theater productions. As other states enacted similar bans in an attempt to curb the spread of infection, live entertainment venues across the nation halted operation. By July, around half of the national performing arts workforce would be out of work.

Photographic portrait of Breonna Taylor

MARCH 13. Breonna Taylor is Murdered by Police

Breaonna Taylor, a black 26-year-old emergency room technician, was in her Louisville apartment when she was fatally shot by plainclothes police officers during a botched narcotics raid.Taylor was not the target of the raid and no drugs were found following the search. 

A store sign that reads, Sorry We Are Cl

MARCH 19. California Issues Statewide Stay-at-Home Order

California became the first U.S. state to order all residents to stay at home, excluding essential workers and essential shopping trips. By early April, 42 states and territories issued mandatory stay-at-home orders.

Close-up shot of a stimulus check addres

MARCH 27. CARES Act is Signed into Law

Congress passed a roughly $2 trillion economic relief package called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), the largest single spending bill in U.S. history. The bill included direct “stimulus checks” for many, additional funding to public health and education sectors, business grants, expanded unemployment benefits, among other actions. 

A sign that reads, Unemployment Insuranc

APRIL. Unemployment Rate Peaks

By April, approximately 20.5 million people in the U.S. lost their jobs and the unemployment rate reached 14.7 percent, the highest since the Great Depression. Hispanic and black Americans were the hardest hit, with 61% of Hispanic adults and 44% of black adults reporting a wage or job loss due to COVID-19.

Woman wearing a white N-95 mask

APRIL 3. CDC Urges Mask Use by General Public

With a clearer understanding of how the virus spreads, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanded its mask recommendation from solely those exhibiting COVID-18 symptoms to the general public. New Jersey was the first to issue a state-wide mask mandate on April 10, though many other states would not follow suit until a few months later. 

Minneapolis mural centers George Floyd within a sunflower. He is surrounded by the names of others killed by police.

MAY 25-26. George Floyd is Murdered by Police, Sparking Protests

Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year old black man, for allegedly using a $20 counterfeit bill. Video footage showed white officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck [approx. 8 minutes, 46 seconds] while Floyd repeatedly said "I can't breathe." He later died at the hospital while in police custody. As the video of Floyd’s arrest spread online, hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Minneapolis. In the following weeks, mass protests against police brutality and systemic racism would surge across the U.S. and later the globe. 

Close-up of fists raised as Charlotte pr

JUNE 6. Protest Turnout Peaks in the U.S.

The U.S. saw the highest turnout rate on the first weekend of June, with around half a million people protesting in nearly 550 places across the nation. Organizations like Black Lives Matter were vital to the breadth of the movement, which partially aimed to disinvest in the police and state-sanctioned violence and reinvest in black communities. While the media often portrayed the protests as violent riots, BLM protesters were overwhelmingly peaceful and much of the violence actually came from police or counter-protesters. 

Covid patient connected to a ventilator lays on a hospital bed, attended by two people covered in white medical scrubs

JUNE 10. US COVID-19 Cases Reach 2 Million

As states began to ease social distancing restrictions, new infections continued to rise in at least 20 states. The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. surged to 2 million, representing more than 25% of the world’s cases. 

A pop-up memorial for the Trans Day of R

JULY. Number of Transgender People Murdered Surpasses 2019

Within 7 months, the number of transgender people suspected of being murdered in 2020 surpassed the total for all of 2019. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, at least 28 transgender people have been murdered, or their death is suspicious, compared to a total of 26 the previous year. Out of the 28 victims, 23 were transgender women, comprising primarily of Black and Latina trans women.

Photo of California wildfire. Smoke from

AUGUST 13. Deadly Wildfires Erupt in American West

Lightning storms amid heat waves and drought triggered wildfires that spread over 8.2 million acres of land west of the Rocky Mountains. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to evacuate and at least 37 people were killed. Both Colorado and California experienced record-setting fires in terms of acres burned this year.

Masked Black Lives Matter protesters cro

AUGUST-SEPTEMBER. #BlackLivesMatter Protests Resurge 

On August 23, 29-year-old Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by white Kenosha Police Department officer Rusten Sheskey, resulting in Blake’s paralysis from the waist down. Later in September, a Kentucky grand jury returned no criminal charges against the officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor. Both events went viral, intensifying demonstrations locally and in major cities throughout the country. 

Joe Biden at a podium announcing Senator Kamala Harris as Candidate for Vice President

NOVEMBER 7. Joe Biden is Elected U.S. President

After several days of waiting as the results unfolded, major news organizations finally declared that Joe Biden had secured enough votes to be named the 46th president of the United States. His running mate, Senator Kamala Harris made U.S. history as the first woman of color [black, South Asian] to be elected vice president. The election saw record numbers of people voting early and by mail. Biden’s ticket received more than 80 million votes, the most votes cast for any U.S. presidential candidate. 

Rows of glass containers filled with clear liquid. Front labels read, COVID-19/Coronavirus Vaccine/Injection only.

DECEMBER 14. First Americans are Vaccinated

After the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the emergency use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot, frontline health workers in California were among the first in the U.S. to receive the vaccine. A week later, the FDA cleared a second vaccine developed by Moderna. 

COVID-19 Memorial Field of White Flags .

DECEMBER. Global Total of COVID-19 Deaths Reaches 1.7 Million

More than 1.7 million people have been killed by the virus worldwide since the start of the pandemic, and nearly 375,000 of those deaths were in the United States, which had the most number of confirmed cases out of any country at approximately 20 million.

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