25 Eerie Photos From the Day COVID Was Declared a National Emergency

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Allie Hogan
·8 min read
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On March 13, 2020, Americans' lives changed forever. Warnings of a novel coronavirus infecting other countries and stirrings from health experts in the previous weeks were finally confirmed during a press conference with then-President Donald Trump, who declared a national emergency. On that day, Reuters said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had reported 1,678 cases of COVID and 41 COVID-related deaths. Those numbers, of course, would quickly rise, eventually reaching our current total of 29 million COVID cases and 530,000 deaths.

As Americans came to terms with the severity of the virus, some scrambled to stock up on groceries, some sanitized surfaces repetitively, and others fled their homes entirely. Restaurants shut their doors, not knowing when (or if) they'd open again, and live performers took their final bows. Here are 25 haunting photos of life on March 13, 2020, a day that started off "normal" and ended as anything but. And for more on the latest developments with the virus, check out These 7 States Are Seeing COVID Cases Rise Again.


The president declares COVID a national emergency.

Outside of the White House, Trump officially declares COVID a national emergency during a news conference with National Institute Of Allergy And Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, MD—who was hardly the household name he is now—then-Vice President Mike Pence, members of the COVID task force, and other healthcare leaders.

For more on the latest with COVID, check out This Is What It Means If You Have No Vaccine Side Effects, Doctors Say.


People watch the news conference at Chicago O'Hare Airport.

Here, people watch Trump's news conference while waiting to greet travelers coming into the international terminal at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. Throughout the day, people are glued to their TVs, trying to understand what is happening.


Deborah Birx, MD, explains how COVID testing will work.

Then-White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx, MD, outlines how COVID testing will be approached. At the time, no symptoms meant no test was necessary. Of course, we know better now.

And for more on the latest news around the virus, here's The One Thing People Who Get COVID After Being Vaccinated Have in Common.


Trump offers a handshake.

Here, Trump offers a handshake, and is met with an elbow bump from LHC Group Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer Bruce Greenstein following the news conference.

And for more up-to-date COVID news delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.


Young people start fleeing cities for the comforts of home.

A young woman is one of the few wearing a face mask in Union Station in Los Angeles, California. At the time, the state of California was reporting 247 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and six deaths. Now, a year later, there are 3,516,862 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, resulting in 54,891 deaths.


People at Disneyland wear protective gloves and no face masks.

Pictured here on the following day, March 14, outside Disneyland in California, people wear protective gloves in an effort to stop the spread of the virus seeing as, at the time, we feared contracting COVID by touch (a form of transmission since proven to be far less common than droplets or airborne spread).

On this day, Disneyland closed. On April 1, it's scheduled to reopen for the first time in more than a year.


Maskless New Yorkers queue up to buy groceries.

A group of New Yorkers line up to buy supplies at a Manhattan supermarket. As you can see, one man wears gloves, but there's not a mask in sight.

And to see what you should do before your shot, check out Doctors Say Do These 2 Things the Morning of Your Vaccine Appointment.


Shoppers in Minnesota flood Costco to prepare for lockdown.

Shoppers nationwide flood stores to stock up on essential items to carry them through an undetermined amount of time in quarantine, buying up bottled water, cereal, and other goods, like these Minnesotans at Costco.


Bleach and frozen food fill one customer's cart.

In a long line at Market Basket in Waltham, Massachusetts, this shopper's cart is filled with bleach, milk, frozen peas, and other items as they prepare to quarantine.


And supermarkets are wiped out entirely.

This Trader Joe's in New York City is pictured on March 13, 2020, completely out of every single bread item on the day COVID was declared a national emergency.


Pasta also becomes a hot commodity.

People panic nationwide and clear shelves in stores, snatching up all the available non-perishable food. Here's an empty pasta section in New York, save for one box.


A woman nabs the last rolls of paper towel.

Shelves normally stocked with toilet paper and paper towels in Dunkirk, Maryland sit empty at a Giant Supermarket store after this woman finds the last two packages of Bounty.


Not knowing how to treat COVID, people buy up cold and flu medications.

The cold and flu section at a pharmacy in New York City is nearly bare as people prepare to treat the novel virus, unclear as to what might help. At this point, there are 95 confirmed cases in New York City. Now, there have been 770,420 COVID cases in the city.


Empty shelves line a Target in Virginia.

In addition to toilet paper, pasta, and medications, people buy up sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer, forcing many stores, such as this Target in Virginia, to quickly put a limit on how many of the same item you can buy to ensure there's enough to go around.


The Museum of Modern Art shuts down "temporarily."

A closed sign outside of  Museum of Modern Art on March 13, 2020 in New York City. Due to the ongoing threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the United States, many events have been canceled. (Photo by
A closed sign outside of Museum of Modern Art on March 13, 2020 in New York City. Due to the ongoing threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the United States, many events have been canceled. (Photo by

At this point, New Yorkers are under the impression that taking "two weeks to flatten the curve" would be all that it would take to beat the virus. Of course, things didn't pan out that way, and MoMA didn't reopen until late August.


Signs outside of the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, California also expect a two-week delay.

Live theatre was called off everywhere from Broadway to Hollywood. The sign pictured says performances are canceled through March 31 initially, but most theaters are still dark today.


People pose outside of Peoria Stadium in Arizona after the MLB season is delayed.

Major League Baseball suspends spring training and delays opening day games on Mar. 13. Here, Cleveland fans pose outside of Peoria Sports Complex in Arizona, where spring training had been taking place.


Boston officials announce the Boston Marathon is postponed.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announces the Boston Marathon would be postponed until Sept. 14. However, the marathon was ultimately held virtually.


An airport employee puts out hand sanitizing stations in Los Angeles.

Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds and sanitizing them when you're not near running water is one of the first public health recommendations Americans learn to prevent the spread of COVID. On March 13, mobile hand sanitizing stations begin popping up more frequently, like these at a Los Angeles airport.


There are only a few masked flyers at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

After President Trump cancels all flights between Europe and the U.S. beginning March 13, John F. Kennedy Airport, generally one of the most bustling airports, is pictured with only sparse travelers. Interstate travel quickly slows as well as COVID fears—and the virus itself—spread.


An employee sanitizes seats at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport next to an unmasked man.

An essential worker sanitizes seats at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport as the last flights from Europe come in before the ban begins.


A server in Portland, Oregon sanitizes menus.

Restauranteurs had to quickly shift to survive on takeout profit alone once lockdown began. Here, a server at Bao Bao Dumpling House in Portland is seen sanitizing menus.


On Capitol Hill, a sign asks people to avoid shaking hands.

People are asked to abstain from touching each other, swapping handshakes for elbow bumps or waves from a distance. A sign is affixed to then-Senator Kamala Harris' office door on Capitol Hill, declaring there would be a no-handshake policy inside the now-vice president's office.


An empty 34th Street Hudson Yards subway station in New York.

Bustling cities all over the country come to a halt at once. Here, New York City's 34th Street Hudson Yards subway station is completely empty.


A California high school announces it will shut down.

After the national emergency is declared, March 13 becomes the last day of in-class learning for many schools, with most shuttering the following Monday, March 16. When remote learning began that week, many teachers and students didn't foresee being in the same predicament a year later.