UC Davis Health nurse working with a COVID-19 patient

Since diagnosing and treating the nation’s first-known case of community-transmitted COVID‑19, UC Davis Health has played important roles in clinical, research, and public health responses to the pandemic.

That first patient was an otherwise healthy person in their 40s, transferred to UC Davis Medical Center. Within 24 hours, the patient’s status continued to deteriorate.

At that time — early-to-mid February — the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was quickly picking up steam. UC Davis Health's infection prevention specialists in Sacramento had been preparing for the not-yet-named COVID-19 for more than a month by the time this patient arrived.

However, the patient didn't meet the criteria for testing set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Over the next several days, UC Davis clinicians ruled out all other potential causes, leading the CDC to authorize a COVID-19 test.

Two days later, the test came back positive. The case became the nation’s first clear example of community spread, and one of its first COVID-19 hospitalizations. When UC Davis announced this on Feb. 26, 2020, it made headlines around the world.

UC Davis has remained at the forefront of the global pandemic response ever since. Our teams are using their experiences and expertise in health, virology, engineering, and zoonotic diseases to tackle the crisis at all levels, and from all directions.

“Since that first day, every person at UC Davis Health has played a vital role as we confronted this unprecedented crisis,” said David Lubarsky, UC Davis Health’s CEO and the Vice Chancellor of Human Health Sciences for UC Davis. “They’ve shown the utmost grace under pressure, while serving our patients and collaborating with our community partners in the interest of public health — for everyone.”

A year of responding to novel coronavirus (COVID-19)

December 2019


An outbreak of acute respiratory illness, linked to a novel coronavirus (COVID-19), emerges in China.

January 2020


Jan. 22 – UC Davis Health pulls together a working group to begin planning for COVID-19 identification and case management.


February 2020


UC Davis Health bedside nurse

Feb. 26 UC Davis treats the first U.S. community spread case of COVID-19

UC Davis Health announces it is treating the first apparent case of COVID-19 acquired by community spread, driving changes to national testing guidelines.


Feb. 29 – The first suspected U.S. death is reported near Seattle.

March 2020


Mar. 11 – The World Health Organization (WHO) declares a global COVID-19 pandemic.


Mar. 13 – The U.S. declares a national emergency.


Mar. 16 – California issues a sweeping stay-at-home order.


Mar. 24 – UC Davis Health sees more than 1,000 patients per day via telehealth video visit, a 5,000% increase in just two weeks.


index patient chest scanChest x-rays from the index patient show significant improvement after 14 days of treatment at UC Davis Medical Center.

Mar. 30Sharing lessons from our COVID-19 index case

UC Davis Health clinicians publish a case study about their COVID-19 index patient in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. UC Davis hematopathologists reported leukemia-like blood test results from the case. They advised fellow clinicians to order COVID-19 testing instead of cancer screenings for certain symptoms.


Setting state and national COVID-19 standards

UC Davis Health faculty help set comprehensive standards for COVID-19 pandemic-related patient care and workforce safety. Examples:

April 2020


coronavirus testingIn its initial days, UC Davis Health Clinical Laboratory specialists developed the capacity to run 400 COVID-19 tests a day, knowing the device eventually had the capacity to perform more than 1,000 tests per day.

Apr. 6Boosting California’s COVID-19 testing capacity

After steadily increasing its own testing, UC Davis Health is named to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 Testing Task Force, a public-private collaboration to increase statewide capacity. The health system can already run up to 400 tests per day. UC Davis Health works to expand into a high-volume testing hub with its Roche Diagnostics cobas 6800 robot.


Apr. 16Reporting the first trial of a promising antiviral

Preliminary results emerge from the first small clinical trial of the antiviral therapy remdesivir, conducted at UC Davis Health and hospitals worldwide. Nearly two-thirds of the severely ill, hospitalized COVID-19 patients who received the drug improved, with no new safety concerns. WebMD’s Chief Medical Officer interviews site principal investigator Stuart Cohen about the results, which are published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Larger, controlled trials follow, and remdesivir emerges as one of the most promising in the early field of potential treatments.


Apr. 29Testing begins on a potential COVID-19 vaccine

Biopharmaceutical company Verndari, Inc. announces the start of preclinical testing with the UC Davis’ Mouse Biology Program to evaluate a potential vaccine and dermal patch delivery system for COVID-19.


Apr. 29Plasma transfusions for COVID-19

Two UC Davis Health patients with COVID-19 receive transfusions from a blood donor who recovered from the virus. This is part of a national initiative investigating the potential benefits of convalescent plasma. It’s hoped the treatment may boost a sick patient’s ability to neutralize COVID-19 and its effects.

May 2020


May 14 Panel examines COVID-19 pandemic disparities

The UC Davis Health Office for Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion hosts a panel to explain reasons for health disparities related to COVID-19, and what can be done. Physicians at “COVID-19: Addressing Health Disparities in the African American Community” say that social determinants of health are a major reason African Americans and Latinos in California are infected with COVID-19 at rates higher than whites.


Mid-May Helping in New York as it's overrun by COVID-19

Two emergency physicians, Alex Schmalz and Nick Sawyer, from UC Davis Health travel to Elmhurst Hospital in New York to help medical personnel overwhelmed by the large number of COVID-19 cases. UC Davis Health nurse practitioner Paula Wagner also volunteers her time for 13 days at a Brooklyn hospital.


May 19 Tracking a troubling syndrome in children

UC Davis Children’s Hospital becomes part of an international group researching multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). Researchers deem this a new form of COVID-19 likened to toxic shock syndrome and Kawasaki disease.


An illustration of the swab test distributed by UC Davis Health trended nationally in the early pandemic, ranking high on search engines.An illustration of the COVID-19 nasal swab test distributed by UC Davis Health trended nationally in the early pandemic.

May 21 UC Davis Health performs 10,000th COVID-19 test

Clinical pathologists perform their 10,000th COVID-19 molecular test. UC Davis is able to test all hospitalized patients at UC Davis Medical Center to help ensure safety at the facility. The health system also processes tests gathered at community sites — which helps identify that working-age Latinos are getting infected and dying in disproportionately high numbers.


May 28 – U.S. COVID-19 deaths exceed 100,000.

July 2020


July 20 Testing an antibody cocktail

UC Davis Health announces a federal grant to test a new antibody combination as a possible therapy for reducing viral shedding and disease progression.


July 23 A new ICU partnership in a hotspot county

UC Davis Health and Adventist Health Lodi Memorial partner to launch a 24/7 telehealth link between the Lodi hospital’s intensive care unit. The ICU has been caring for many COVID-19 patients in highly impacted San Joaquin County.


July 30 Clinical guidance to help improve patient care

A primer on coronavirus and diagnostic errors becomes the latest COVID-19 clinical guide released by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Patient Safety Network (PSNet). It's co-edited by internal medicine professor Patrick Romano and nursing professor Debra Bakerjian. The primer aims to improve care for all patients and points out that delayed diagnosis can lead to delayed treatment or preventable COVID-19 transmission.

August 2020


Patient participating in clinical trialsMore than 200 people participated in UC Davis Health’s clinical trial for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which enrolled more than 40,000 participants worldwide.

Aug. 12 Part of a major COVID-19 vaccine trial

UC Davis Health partners with Pfizer Inc. and Germany based BioNTech SE to participate in a global study of an investigational COVID-19 vaccine. The first of the university’s 200 vaccine candidate participants receive their shots a week later.

September 2020


Sept. 10 Telehealth for at-risk Central Valley residents

The ACTIVATE initiative, a public-private pilot to bring telehealth services to underserved rural residents like farmworkers, is launched in Merced County.


Sept. 14 Pushing to prevent a ‘twindemic’

To avoid overlapping respiratory illness and preserve hospital capacity for COVID-19 surges, UC Davis Health promotes the importance of flu vaccinations during the pandemic. Drive-through flu shot events also help boost participation.


Sept. 16Historic respiratory pandemic, meet historic wildfires

UC Davis pulmonologists help Californians understand how heavy wildfire smoke increases COVID-19 risks and which respiratory symptoms indicate COVID-19.

UC Davis Health physician Roderick Fontenette (far right), also an Air Force Lt. Col., was deployed to Fresno to fight COVID-19.Several UC Davis Health physicians, who are miliatary members, were deployed across the country and around the world in the fight against COVID-19.

SeptemberMilitary doctors battle against COVID-19

Emergency medicine physician and Army reservist Josh Elder returns from overseas deployment supporting special-ops troops with trauma care and COVID-19 prevention. He’s one of a number of UC Davis Health military members fighting against COVID-19 both home and abroad. In addition, emergency medicine physician and Air Force Lt. Col. Rory Stuart was awarded the Bronze Star for early COVID-response work in Afghanistan.


Sept. 28 – Global deaths from COVID-19 reach 1 million.

October 2020


Oct. 1 Free COVID-19 testing for Central Valley farmworkers

Four UC Davis research centers receive a $3.7 million NIH grant to test workers in the Central Valley, where the COVID-19 pandemic has reached alarming levels.

Pulmonary ClinicTeams of experts at the new Post-COVID-19 Clinic work to help patients who battle complex, long-lasting symptoms

Oct. 12Can an antibody cocktail prevent COVID-19 infection?

UC Davis Health participates in a clinical trial of the Regeneron monoclonal antibody combination. But this time, the aim is to prevent infection in people with close exposure to a diagnosed patient, such as a household member.


Oct. 28UC Davis Health launches region's first clinic for long haulers

UC Davis Health launches a Post-COVID-19 Clinic, becoming one of only a handful of U.S. health systems with a dedicated venue for so-called "long-haul" patients.

November 2020


Nov. 12‘Nothing else as fast and accurate’

UC Davis Health becomes the first in the region and among the first in the nation to use rapid, combined molecular tests at the point of care. The highly accurate rapid test can check for both COVID-19 and flu in minutes.

December 2020


woman getting her covid-19 vaccineThe Novavax clinical trial enrolled participants in the U.S. and Mexico in an effort to prioritize those who are most affected by COVID-19, including underrepresented minorities.

Dec. 7Another vaccine trial underway

UC Davis Health launches clinical trials for the easier-to-store Novavax COVID-19 vaccine. The overall trial prioritizes highly impacted groups such as Latino, African American and Native American communities.


Dec. 11First COVID-19 vaccine approved

The FDA authorizes the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use after data shows 95% efficacy.


Dec. 11A new COVID-19 exposure-warning app

The state of California rolls out CA COVID Notify. The Bluetooth-driven app sends anonymous notifications when users have been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. UC Davis and six other UC campuses pilot the project, based on Google and Apple’s exposure notification technology.


A nurse receives the first Pfizer/BioNTech at UC Davis HealthClinical nurse Eva Teniola is the first person and employee at UC Davis Medical Center to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Dec. 15Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrives

As the U.S. death toll surpasses 300,000, UC Davis Health becomes among the nation's first health systems to receive an initial allotment of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. It begins inoculating frontline health care workers three hours later. California targets UC Davis Health for the vaccine due to its storage capability, highest-risk health care population, and community distribution ability.


Dec. 18 – The FDA approves the Moderna vaccine for emergency use.


Dec. 22Moderna vaccine arrives

In a dose of holiday good news, UC Davis Medical Center receives its initial allotment of the Moderna vaccine. Data from clinical trials suggests the COVID-19 vaccine is 94% effective.

January 2021


woman getting covid-19 vaccine at UC Davis Health

Jan. 12UC Davis Health launches COVID-19 patient vaccinations

UC Davis Health announces it will begin vaccinating its patients. The initial group of patients is identified as the most vulnerable: those age 75 and older with underlying conditions.


Jan. 15 – Global COVID-19 deaths reach 2 million.


Jan. 26COVID-19 vaccinations expand for patients

UC Davis Health announces it's opening vaccinations to patients age 65 and older.


Jan. 28Farmworker safety initiative

To help reduce the pandemic’s impacts on California’s 800,000 farmworkers, UC Davis launches the COVID-19 Statewide Agriculture and Farmworker Education training and safety program. The state-funded project is led by experts at the UC Davis Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, which includes investigators from the UC Davis School of Medicine and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.


Jan. 28Multiple COVID-19 clinical trials underway locally

The UC Davis School of Medicine announces it's actively recruiting for more than a dozen clinical trials in the search for new COVID-19 treatments.

February 2021


Feb. 2Shielding a city from COVID-19

The Healthy Davis Together COVID-prevention project is the most ambitious of its type in the country and could be a model for other universities, the New York Times notes in a feature article. The joint City of Davis-UC Davis initiative aims to facilitate a coordinated and gradual return to regular activities and reintegration of UC Davis students, while preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the Davis community.

Patient receiving COVID-19 vaccine

Feb. 6Helping reach vulnerable communities

UC Davis Health partners with the Sacramento County Department of Public Health and Dignity Health to host the first of many planned community-based COVID-19 vaccination clinics, designed to reach vulnerable populations.


Feb. 21 – As U.S. deaths top 500,000, UC Davis Health delivers more than 50,000 COVID-19 vaccines.