Four Years of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going

By: Larsan Czoty

Image courtesy of NIAID; CC-BY 2.0 DEED

A public health emergency for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak was announced on January 30, 2020 by the Department of Health and Human Services in the United States.1 Less than two months later, on March 11, 2020, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, with 118,000 reported cases and nearly 4,300 reported deaths globally at the time.2 For many people, everyday life was brought to a standstill as governments and public health agencies scrambled to control the pandemic. 

COVID-19, a virus that causes respiratory illness, has now had a global presence for four years. Throughout the last few years, the United States has experienced a range of public health guidance and restrictions, from school shutdowns and regular testing to mask mandates and isolation guidelines, to best protect individuals from contracting and transmitting the virus.1 Most of these recommendations aim to prevent the spread of the virus and reduce the amount of people who would become infected, and possibly sick, with the disease.3 “Flattening the curve” became a household saying that encompassed the ongoing goal to lessen disease transmission and regain a sense of normalcy.

The public health emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic ended on May 11, 2023, impacting data reporting and insurance coverage.4,5 Although most of the world has returned to normal life, COVID-19 is still very present. The WHO reports a cumulative total of over 774.7 million reported cases, 103.4 million in the United States alone. Additionally, they report over 7 million reported deaths, 1.2 million of those were in the United States, in the last four years. In February 2024, there were over 330,000 reported cases and over 7,000 reported deaths globally.6 These numbers illuminate the intense impact of the pandemic as a whole and the role that the United States has had. It is likely that the reported case and death counts are an underrepresentation of the true burden of the COVID-19 pandemic, with some estimates nearing 30 million deaths.7 

Vaccines have become a powerful tool for protecting against severe COVID-19 illness and death.8 The COVID-19 vaccine has been shown to be effective and is estimated to have saved over 200,000 lives in the first ten months of the vaccine rollout.9 The quick development of a safe, effective vaccine has prevented severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths, which has allowed the world to move towards lessening therestrictions put in place throughout the pandemic. Access to COVID-19 vaccines for everyone will be crucial to continuing the decreasing case, hospitalization, and death trends.

As public health measures have continued to be enacted, the hospitalization and death rates for COVID-19 have continued to decrease. As a result, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recently revised their isolation guidelines for COVID-19.10 The previous isolation guidelines from the CDC consisted of isolating for a minimum of 5 days after a positive test, and practicing precautions afterwards.11 However, as of March 1, 2024, the CDC combined their guidance for COVID-19, RSV, and influenza into “Respiratory Virus Guidance”.10 The new guidance recommends that people with respiratory symptoms should stay at home as much as possible, but can return to regular activities 24 hours after their symptoms are generally better and they don’t have a fever and are not using medication to reduce a fever.12  Preventive measures are still encouraged, but the departure from the 5-day isolation period marks a major shift in how COVID-19 is treated in comparison to other seasonal respiratory illnesses. Even though key advancements have been made, COVID-19 is not going anywhere, as shown by ongoing case counts, and future guidelines will continue to shape our place in the pandemic. 


  1. CDC Museum COVID-19 Timeline
  2. WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 11 March 2020
  3. Flattening the Coronavirus Curve
  4. End of the Federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) Declaration
  5. Fact Sheet: End of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency
  6. WHO COVID-19 dashboard
  7. The Fourth Anniversary of the Covid Pandemic
  8. Covid-19 vaccination hesitancy
  9. 5 Things You Should Know about COVID-19 Vaccines
  10. Background for CDC’s Updated Respiratory Virus Guidance
  11. Respiratory Virus Guidance Update FAQs
  12. CDC’s Updated Respiratory Virus Guidance: What to Do When You Are Sick

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