Thursday marks exactly six months since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health crisis connected with the disease that was then simply known as the novel coronavirus.
Half a year later, the virus has infected 17 million people on every continent and killed more than 600,000 worldwide.
On Jan. 31, WHO issued a statement saying that Dr. Tedros Adhanom, the director-general of the organization, had accepted a committee's recommendation to declare the outbreak of the virus in China a "public health emergency of international concern."
At the time, the outbreak was mainly concentrated in China, as the country had confirmed 7,711 cases of the virus and 170 deaths linked to the disease. While the virus had been recorded in five other countries — including five cases in the U.S. — there had been no deaths recorded outside of China.
In its Jan. 31 declarations, the WHO did not recommend any travel or trade restrictions, but urged countries to prepare for containment and "place emphasis on reducing human infection, prevention of secondary transmission and international spread."
The organization issued its recommendation 10 days after China reported that the virus appeared to be spreading from person-to-person, a finding that indicated the disease could have far-reaching implications. The New York Times reports that by that time, thousands had traveled out of Wuhan, the virus' place of origin, possibly spreading it around the world. China has since faced criticism for not reporting its findings sooner.
That same day, President Donald Trump took action to block entry into the U.S. of any person that had been in China for the last 14 days. The order did not apply to U.S. citizens. While the move may have temporarily delayed the virus' widespread arrival, his administration's inaction for the next month would prove costly.
During the next month, the CDC would face significant delays in developing a test for COVID-19, which would cause a testing backup in the months to come. The president also repeatedly downplayed the severity of the situation, declaring on Feb. 26 that the number of cases in the U.S. would go down to zero in the coming days.
In the months since the WHO's declaration, 150,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, and more than 4 million have been infected. Both figures are by far the most of any other country.