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Emergency closure. Photo/Ted Eytan. Used with permission.

A timeline of the D.C. region’s COVID-19 pandemic

March 24, 2020
  • Aimee Custis

This article was originally published on March 24, 2019. It was last updated April 22, 2020.

The outbreak of the new coronavirus disease 2019 (abbreviated COVID-19) has made tens of thousands of people worldwide (and counting) sick, with thousands dead and the crisis deepening daily. Officials have declared the disease a worldwide pandemic. The virus has risen to prominence in the District of Columbia and surrounding region in a few short weeks, taxing healthcare infrastructure and taking a severe toll on the economy. Amid daily and even hourly news during a time with many of the region’s residents social-distancing at home, the D.C. Policy Center has compiled a high-level perspective on the timeline of the local crisis.

Jump to:


The novel coronavirus emerges


The new coronavirus emerged in China, at a seafood and poultry market. Within two months, it spread throughout the world causing deaths and severe economic hardship.


Late 2019

  • Tuesday, December 31: government officials in Wuhan, China, confirmed that health authorities were treating dozens of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause. It would later be confirmed as COVID-19.


January 2020

  • Saturday, January 11: Chinese state media reports the first-known COVID-19 related death. The report came just prior to the country’s widely-celebrated New Year holiday.
  • Tuesday, January 21: The first American case of COVID-19 is reported in Snohomish County in Washington State, contracted by a person who had recently returned from the Wuhan region of China.
  • Thursday, January 30: The World Health Organization (WHO) declares a public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC (a designation meant to help support less developed countries and to try to prevent the virus from spreading in those places that are less equipped to detect the disease and handle infections).


February 2020

  • Friday, February 14: French officials announce a Chinese tourist has died of COVID-19 at a Paris hospital, the first COVID-19 death outside of Asia and the fourth outside mainland China.





COVID-19 in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region


By early March, the virus had arrived in local Washington, D.C. area. Closings, shutdowns, and emergency measures followed rapidly as officials worked to reduce transmission of the virus through social distancing, and prepare the region for the pandemic’s health and economic impacts. Items specific to the District of Columbia are styled in bold.


Saturday, March 7


Wednesday, March 11

  • DC Health recommends the cancellation of mass (1000+) person gatherings.


Friday, March 13

  • The District of Columbia bans gathering of 50+, cuts restaurant dining room capacity to half, disallows bar/standing service for social distancing, and closes nightclubs.


Sunday, March 15


Monday, March 16

  • District government begins modified operations with some office closures and allowance for telework.
  • Virginia suspends power and water service cutoffs for nonpayment during the pandemic.
  • Restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters in Maryland are ordered to close.


Tuesday, March 17

  • Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signs an order mandating that businesses limit gatherings to 10 people.


Wednesday, March 18


Thursday, March 19

  • D.C. makes transportation-related adjustments: rush hour parking restrictions are suspended, rush hour reversible lanes on Connecticut Ave & 16th St. are suspended, Circulator fares are suspended to allow all-door boarding and the bus service’s National Mall route is suspended, residential street sweeping is suspended, and booting/towing suspended.


Friday, March 20

  • The District of Columbia announces that modified government operations and D.C. Public Schools distance learning is extended to April 27.


Sunday, March 22

  • In response to crowds ignoring social distancing during cherry blossom peak bloom, D.C. uses road closures to create ‘restricted access zone’ around the Tidal Basin to mitigate visits to cherry blossoms.


Monday, March 23

  • Governor Northam announces that all Virginia barber shops, movie theaters, massage parlors, gyms, massage parlors must close. Restaurants and bars must shift to delivery and takeout, in a move that is effective for a minimum of 30 days.


Tuesday, March 24

  • D.C. schools begin first day of distance learning, following return from early spring break. D.C. also announces the launch of the D.C. Education Equity Fund.


Thursday, March 26


Monday, March 30


Tuesday, March 31


Tuesday, April 7


Wednesday, April 8

  • Mayor Muriel Bowser issues Mayor’s Order 2020-058 mandating that people wear masks in grocery stores, limiting the number of customers who may be in a store at a given time, and closing self-service stations such as salad bars, among other restrictions.


Friday, April 10


Wednesday, April 15


Tuesday, April 21

  • D.C. Council tweaks its recent COVID-19 response bills, with changes that include a further extension for the mayor’s budget submission and the expansion of a rent-hike prohibition to cover commercial tenants.


Friday, April 24





Looking ahead: Postponements and deadlines


Tuesday, May 12

  • Likely postponement date for D.C.’s budget submission and adoption processes.


Friday, May 15

  • Current end date to D.C. public health emergency, including:
    • Large-group bans
    • Restaurant restrictions
    • Limited D.C. government operations


Friday, May 29


Tuesday, June 30

  • D.C. hotel property and sales tax due (deferred).


Wednesday, July 15

  • Federal and D.C. personal income tax filings and payments due (deferred).


Monday, July 20

  • D.C. retail sales tax due (deferred).



If you have corrections or additions to offer, please email the author at aimee@dcpolicycenter.org.


Aimee Custis

Former Director of External Relations
D.C. Policy Center

Aimee Custis served as the Director of External Relations at the D.C. Policy Center until 2023, where she lead the Policy Center’s work on strategic communications, marketing, engagement, and media coordination. She also supported the Policy Center’s fundraising operations.

Before joining the D.C. Policy Center team in 2019, Aimee served as Deputy Executive Director, and prior to that Communications Director, at the Coalition for Smarter Growth, where she led local advocacy campaigns, coordinated board relations, directed fundraising and operations, and supervised strategic communications. Aimee began her career in policy at the Transportation Learning Center, where she managed workforce training grant programs for several large U.S. transit agencies, and coordinated advocacy on and off Capitol Hill.

Aimee was a longtime editor at Greater Greater Washington. She holds a Master of Public Policy from American University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Theory from Tulane University. She spends her time outside of the D.C.Policy Center as a wedding photographer.