506 days: Looking back at the ups and downs of COVID-19 in Central California

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- It's been 18 months since the first case of COVID-19 was detected in California, in January of last year.

Timeline: Central California through the pandemic

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Two months later, fear, concern, and case rates had grown so rapidly, a state of emergency was declared, and life for almost everyone changed seemingly overnight.

RELATED: Gov. Newsom issues statewide 'stay at home' order in effort to slow COVID-19

School campuses closed and classes shifted to virtual learning.

RELATED: Fresno Unified shuts down all schools until April 13 to prevent COVID-19 spread

The thought shifted to what that means for the athletes, specifically the college athletes who only have four short years of eligibility. Did the coronavirus really just take away one of those years?

So many questions and so much unknown, as everyone waded through similar situations, unsure of what life would look like, even the next day.

Then, Fresno County saw its first death, and our reality quickly worsened.

RELATED: Fresno Co. reports first coronavirus death, officials looking to ramp up testing

City officials began taking steps to ensure people wouldn't congregate, including removing equipment like tennis nets from parks.

Nursing homes in the Valley were reeling from the enormous spike in confirmed cases among residents and staff, showing how fast the virus could spread.

We saw progress, with Fresno Unified announcing that in-person classes will resume for thousands of students on August 17th... but then more setbacks came.

California reached two grim milestones, reporting its highest number of coronavirus cases in a single day - and surpassing New York state as having the most cases of COVID-19 in the nation.

RELATED: California reports record number of new COVID-19 cases

The Central Valley found itself in the national spotlight when federal health officials identified the region as one of ten COVID-19 hot spots in the U.S.

"It stings a little bit to be called out at the national level. I do feel like maybe this will help us get more resources, that this is going to be a wake-up call," said Fresno County's public health officer Dr. Rais Vohra in response.

RELATED: Central CA is one of the top COVID-19 hotspots in U.S., White House says

Governor Newsom issued a statewide order that required Californians to wear a mask in almost all public settings, including while at work.

So much uncertainty remained, as families tried to get back some sense of normalcy. But then the holiday season meant to celebrate family, friends, and togetherness, saw us sharing COVID too, with numbers skyrocketing back up.

RELATED: Fresno doctor says current spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations linked to Thanksgiving gatherings

Hospitalizations increased nearly 90% over a few weeks statewide.

RELATED: 'Write your own history': South Valley doctors, nurses make desperate plea to stay home for holidays

Governor Gavin Newsom warned of another stay-at-home order as the state is in danger of running out of ICU beds.

RELATED: Available hospital beds, staff dangerously low in Central Valley

But after that winter surge, hope was on the horizon - the COVID-19 vaccine arrived.

All our safety measures and vaccination efforts started paying off.

After more than a year on lockdown, Governor Newsom announced a plan to fully reopen California's economy if the drop in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continued.

Students across the Central Valley started to return to campuses.

RELATED: Clovis Unified returns to full in-person learning 5 days a week in fall

And on June 15, California took another step towards normalcy - toward gathering again, toward hugging and handshaking, and seeing each other smile again.

RELATED: Reopening California
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