January 2020 – March 2020: Australian bushfires
2020 quite literally opened with a flare as more than 11,000 bushfires tore through Australia, killing an estimated 3 billion native Australian animals and 445 people, burning 47 million acres of land and displacing over 18,000 citizens. This marks the most devastating bushfire season in Australia’s history, lasting from mid 2019 to the end of March 2020. Needless to say, the havoc and catastrophe of these fires set the stage for the rest of the year.
January 2020 – present: COVID-19 pandemic
On Jan. 9, 2020, the World Health Organization announced the appearance of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China –– a virus that, in a matter of months, would spread across the globe and slam the breaks on life as we knew it, thrusting us into an unprecedented reality of masks, social distancing, emptied grocery stores and Zoom classes. It was a reality where safety became a constant concern and a reality that highlighted the importance of essential workers. At school, it was a reality without a prom, without a graduation, without a spring sports season. For many, it was a reality without a job, without financial security and without money for food or rent. It became a reality filled with conflicts over masks, politics and vaccines, conflicts that fostered a deepened political and social divide. And all the while, it was a reality led by a figure who incited racism and xenophobia by labelling COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus” and the “Kung Flu,” a man who ignored health officials and instead suggested injecting bleach, a president who all but stood by and watched. After more than a year since the first case was diagnosed, COVID-19 continues to be the new reality with more than 25.2 million cases and 419,000 deaths and counting in the U.S. In California, December saw numerous record-breaking days both for the number of new cases and the number of deaths from COVID-19, and ICUs across the state reached full capacity, prompting a second state-wide shut down.
Jan. 16, 2020 – Feb. 5, 2020: Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial
After then-President Donald Trump was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 18, 2019 for charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, the U.S. Senate began its trial on Jan. 16. The two and a half-week trial ended on Feb. 5 with Trump being acquitted of both charges by 52-48 and 53-47 votes for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, respectively. The only Republican in the Senate to vote against Trump, on the charge of abuse of power, was Utah senator Mitt Romney.
Jan. 26, 2020: Kobe Bryant death
On Jan. 26, Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people died after their helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, Calif. Bryant, an 18-time All Star, 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, 2008 NBA MVP and two-time NBA Finals MVP, is considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. His sudden death shocked the world and sparked tributes across the globe, including one at Staples Center where Bryant spent the entirety of his 20-year career playing for the Los Angeles Lakers.
March 9, 2020: Stock market crash
March 9 saw one of the worst stock market crashes in history. The Dow Jones industrial average experienced its worst single-point day drop ever, falling 7.8% to 23,851.02. The Nasdaq dropped 7.3% to 7,950.68, and the S&P 500 index dropped 7.6% to 2,746.56. For reference, the 500 richest people in the world lost a combined $239 billion as the stocks in said index funds plummeted following the initial economic shut down caused by the novel Coronavirus pandemic.
May 2020 – June 2020: Black Lives Matter protests
May and June were filled with Black Lives Matter protests across the nation following the deaths of George Floyd on May 25 and Breonna Taylor on March13, both caused by on-duty police officers. The protests confronted police brutality, specifically against Black people, and systemic racism. An average of 140 protests per day occurred following the first one in Minneapolis on May 26, with an estimated 15 to 26 million people participating nationwide. The largest protests occurred on June 6, where approximately half a million people participated in rallies at more than 500 locations across the country. In Palo Alto, two rallies occurred on June 19, or Juneteenth. The first was to construct a BLM mural in front of city hall, the letters filled with phrases like “Justice Now,” “George Floyd” and “White Silence is Violence.” The second protest occurred later in the day where about 500 people protested throughout Palo Alto. Though not in Palo Alto, throughout the nation protesters were met with police forces that oftentimes shot rubber bullets or tear gas. In some cases, the National Guard was called in despite the vast majority of the protests being peaceful. In the two cases that sparked the protests, Floyd and Taylor, the police officers responsible for their deaths were tried but no police officers were charged in the Taylor case. Four police officers were charged in the Floyd case.
Aug. 4, 2020: Beirut explosion
A large fire in Beirut, Lebanon resulted in two major explosions, killing at least 200 people and injuring another 6,000. The fire originated in a warehouse in the Port of Beirut and eventually ignited more than 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate. The explosion sent a supersonic blast wave through the city and left an initial crater 140 meters wide. The crater immediately filled with seawater and flooded the port. Accounts say the explosion was heard as far away as Cyprus, 200 kilometers across the Mediterranean Sea, and government officials say the blast displaced more than 300,000 people with a great many others remaining unaccounted for.
Oct. 22, 2020: Murder hornets in the US
A nest of Asian Giant Hornets, affectionately nicknamed Murder Hornets for their ability to spit venom and repeatedly and powerfully sting and kill humans, was found in Blaine, Wash. on Oct. 22. Two days later, scientists in Washington vacuumed the tree and removed 85 hornets. Five days after that, they opened the tree to find more than 500 hornets, 200 of which were queens. The majority of the hornets were eradicated while some were kept alive for study. Washington’s agricultural department said it is likely that more nests will be found, though as of now, no more have been discovered.
September 2020: West Coast fires
California and Oregon experienced the worst wildfires in their history throughout September. Record-breaking heat waves and strong Diablo and Santa-Ana winds, as well as a gender reveal party gone wrong, started and spread 4,332 fires across the coast, burning more than 3.5 million acres –– the most on record for a wildfire. The fires resulted in weeks of poor air quality and California issued a state-wide recommendation to stay indoors. To add to the already ominous smoky sky and empty streets, the sky turned an apocalyptic orange because of the high concentration of smoke particles in the air filtering out blue light.
Sept. 18, 2020: Ruth Bader Ginsburg death
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September of complications from metastatic pancreas cancers. Ginsburg was a pioneer and icon in the fight for women’s rights since the 1970s and remained a strong advocate during her time as a Supreme Court justice. She was the second woman ever to be appointed to the Supreme Court and spent 27 years serving on it. She was involved in a number of influential Supreme Court decisions in that time. Her death came 46 days prior to the presidential election, sparking debate as to which president would appoint a justice to replace her. Despite Ginsburg saying her “most fervent wish” was to not be replaced until after the election, then-President Donald Trump appointed Amy Coney Barrett as her replacement, which the senate swiftly confirmed.
Nov. 6, 2020: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris win election
Former Vice President Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in the US presidential race on Nov. 6 winning 306 electoral votes following three days of counting (and recounting) ballots. Biden’s victory was not confirmed until Jan. 6, 2021, when former Vice President Mike Pence counted and verified the electoral votes. With this victory, Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, made history as the first female Vice President, the first VP of color and the first VP of east-Asian descent. Biden and Harris’ victory did not come without fierce opposition, however. Trump’s legal team, headed by Rudy Giuliani, filed more than 60 lawsuits contesting the results of the election in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, losing all of them. Since then, Giuliani was sued for $1.3 billion by Dominion Voting Systems, the company whose technology was used to count the votes on election night.
December 2020: COVID-19 vaccine
The persistent effort to find a vaccine for COVID-19 yielded two separate vaccines in less than a year. On Dec. 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for emergency use, with administration beginning on Dec. 14. Moderna had its vaccine approved for emergency use by the FDA on Dec. 18, with distribution beginning on Dec. 21. This marks the fastest a viral vaccine has been both developed and distributed.