Three Years Ago, the COVID-19 Pandemic Officially Began

Ralph Ellis

March 13, 2023

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency of international concern: a global pandemic. 

Over the last three years, people across the globe locked down, changed their work routines, masked up, and got vaccinated. Today, COVID still circulates, but it doesn't dominate our lives the way it once did.

Here's a snapshot of where we stand on the third anniversary of the COVID pandemic:

Cases and deaths: Worldwide, the pandemic has infected about 759 million people and resulted in 6.8 million COVID-related deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID tracker. In the United States, there were about 104 million infections and about 1.1 million COVID-related deaths – the most of any nation.

As of Friday, March 10, there's a daily average of about 29,000 new cases in the United States and 393 daily COVID-related deaths, according to The New York Times. Though still high, that's a big drop from the peaks: a daily average of more than 800,000 cases in January 2022 and the average daily death count of around 3,000 in January 2021.

Vaccines: Since late 2020, about 81% of the U.S. population has gotten at least one dose of vaccine and 69% has completed a primary vaccine series, according to the CDC. The percentages are higher for the most vulnerable demographic, people over 65. 

The public has lost enthusiasm for vaccinations over the years. Only 16% of the U.S. population has gotten the updated bivalent booster designed to battle Omicron variants.

Counting COVID: It's getting harder to do, partly because so many people are using at-home tests and not reporting positive results to local health authorities. Many health agencies have eased up in counting COVID cases because the threat lessened, The Associated Press reported.

On Friday, Johns Hopkins updated its COVID tracker for the last time. Beth Blauer, the data lead for the project, told The Associated Press that Johns Hopkins relies heavily on public data about COVID and "it's just not there."

Public trust: Resistance to government health measures such as masking and vaccine mandates is one of the legacies of the pandemic. Changing guidance about masking and the origins of the virus hasn't helped either.

Public health became politicized during the pandemic. The Knight Family Foundation reported this week that trust in health officials and the CDC dropped over the course of the pandemic, especially among Republicans. Republicans were less likely to get vaccinated.

Government response: The Biden Administration says the two national emergency declarations dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic will end May 11. That means many services, such as free testing and vaccines, will no longer be available.  

The World Health Organization said in January that the pandemic is probably at "a transition point," meaning public health measures could be further de-escalated. However, WHO hasn't dropped the pandemic designation yet.


Johns Hopkins University COVID Tracker

The New York Times interactive map

CDC COVID tracker

The Associated Press: "Pandemic 3 years later: Has the COVID-19 virus won?"

Knight Family Foundation: "The COVID-19 Pandemic: Insights from Three Years of KFF Polling"

The World Health Organization. "Statement on the fourteenth meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic"


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