Months into the unknown, light-years from normal

Hit early and hard by a virus that would ravage the country, Pennsylvania and New Jersey quickly shut down when COVID-19 arrived. Residents have weathered the impacts on their lives and livelihoods as the states slowly reopened. Still, we struggle to make sense of what the pandemic means for today and tomorrow.
September 18, 2020

For most of 2020, the region and the world have been riding a roller coaster no one signed up to board. From nonchalance to apocalyptic fear to deep resignation, from attempts to trace every case to the realization that the virus is everywhere, from thinking life would be back to normal in a month to realizing “normal” only returns with an effective vaccine, we have collectively experienced the greatest worldwide trial and tragedy in generations.

Amid the isolation and uncertainty, time has often seemed to warp. Days of upheaval have grown into months, redefining how we live in tragic, frustrating, and extraordinary ways. The virus has brought us together and torn us apart. At least 22,179 people in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have died, a toll that likely includes hundreds more.

Other countries have quashed outbreaks, reopened schools, and restarted their economies more quickly than the United States, where states have been largely left to confront COVID-19 on their own. Pennsylvania and New Jersey chose more aggressive responses and slower reopening models, and both also have avoided serious surges since the initial peaks.

The crisis persists, with no end in sight. But a look back at the rocky road we have traveled — daily case counts, mandated closures, social change and all — shows the unprecedented depth of the disruption — and perhaps offers clues about what we’ve learned and how to respond in the coming months and beyond.

Total cases of the coronavirus as of September 16
Pennsylvania: 146,990
Philadelphia: 35,440
New Jersey: 197,792
United States: 6,653,328
SOURCES: Pa. Department of Health; City of Philadelphia; N.J. Department of Health; New York Times

This timeline is based on reporting by dozens of Inquirer reporters, photojournalists, graphic artists and editors, who have covered the pandemic each day from streets, hospitals, schools, businesses and their own homes for more than six months.