One Year Later

Students wearing face coverings walk in the atrium of the Atwood Chemistry Center

2020 began for Emory as most new years do — with the excitement of students returning for the start of the spring semester, the anticipation of coming together for campus events, and the promise of new discoveries and knowledge.

But on March 11, 2020, everything changed.

That's when Emory leaders sent an email message to all students, faculty and staff, informing the university community that spring break would be extended for an extra week, then all classes would transition to remote learning, starting March 23.

In a matter of days, students moved out of residence halls to learn from home, faculty transitioned to teaching remotely, and many staff members began telecommuting — all while researchers and health care providers pivoted to help the world address the threat of the novel coronavirus. And when some were able to carefully return to Emory's campuses for the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, it was to a very different environment.

Combined with Emory's biggest COVID-19 headlines, these photos tell the story of an extraordinary year, as students, faculty and staff met unprecedented challenges with resilience and resolve.

Please note: Photos are best viewed horizontally.


A typical start to the new semester, but with concern growing

A student holding an umbrella grins as she walks to class in a crowd of students

The weather may have been rainy, but students were all smiles Jan. 14, 2020, greeting friends and professors on the first day of spring semester classes for undergraduates.

January 2020

Jan. 21: The first case of the novel coronavirus is confirmed in the United States.

Jan. 24: Emory launches its first webpage with coronavirus updates for the campus community, which later becomes the comprehensive Emory Forward website. To date, Emory Forward has received more than 1.7 million page views.

Jan. 24: The Emory News Center publishes its first article about the illness that will later be known as COVID-19: "What you should know about the new coronavirus."

Poet Nikki Giovanni smiles as she hugs well-wishers outside the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts

On Feb. 22, acclaimed poet Nikki Giovanni gave a free public reading at Emory's Schwartz Center for Performing Arts — sharing poems and stories, then signing hundreds of autographs for attendees. It would be one of the last big community events held on campus.

February 2020

Feb. 3: Emory, collaborators testing antiviral drug as potential treatment for coronaviruses

Feb. 11: Coronavirus, community and compassion: Global health crisis hits home for Emory


A campus and community transformed

A photo of the Emory campus shows green leaves and bright spring sun, but no students

March is typically a busy month at Emory, as students return from spring break and warmer weather provides the perfect opportunity for studying and socializing outside.

But this year, Emory's campuses were quiet after the growing pandemic led the university to announce on March 11, 2020, that it would extend spring break then transition to remote learning.

Emory Healthcare also faced a transition, hosting donation drives for personal protective equipment while caring for patients with COVID-19.

March 2020

March 12: Emory among U.S. sites hosting new clinical trial for COVID-19 treatment

March 20: Emory helps build free online tool to assess COVID-19 risk

March 26: All hands on deck: Emory staff exhibit ‘can-do’ spirit and enduring sense of community

March 27: Emory new site in NIH-sponsored coronavirus vaccine study

Police cars with blue lights flashing drive down Clifton Road under the Emory Hospital pedestrian bridge

First responders from across the region joined a parade past Emory University Hospital on April 15 to thank nurses, doctors, researchers and other hospital workers who put themselves at risk every day to help those affected by COVID-19.

April 2020

April 7: FDA: Human trials can begin for Emory COVID-19 antiviral

April 9: COVID-19 in class: Lessons from the pandemic

April 13: Emory develops diagnostic blood test to determine antibody-responses to COVID-19

April 14: Emory Healthcare opens COVID-19 drive-through testing site

April 17: Emory enrolling older adults in COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial

April 29: Emory helps lead research on remdesivir to treat COVID-19 patients

A student in cap and gown watches Emory Commencement on his cell phone as he stands on the Emory Quad

Emory's 175th Commencement took place entirely online May 11, but a handful of graduating students who remained in the Atlanta area found a creative place to watch: the Emory Quad, which in a normal year would have been packed with thousands of happy graduates and their supporters. To maintain physical distancing, students gathered with roommates or family with whom they were already sheltering.

May 2020

May 14: Emory and Georgia Tech create barrier protection devices for use during COVID-19

May 18: Winning COVID-19 children’s books address facts, emotions surrounding pandemic

May 20: Emory’s antibody study sheds light on COVID-19 immunity

Public health graduate students clad in yellow personal protective equipment and wearing face coverings and face shields swab a woman's nose for a COVID-19 test

Faculty and graduate students from Emory's Rollins School of Public Health provided COVID-19 tests to 450 poultry plant workers, family members and other contacts in a May 22 visit to Hall County, Georgia, where poverty levels are high and health care resources scarce.

Providing public health assistance is the goal of a new partnership between Rollins and the Georgia Department of Public Health. Launched with a $7.8 million grant from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, the Emory COVID-19 Response Collaborative is designed to bolster response and surveillance efforts all around Georgia.

May 2020, Continued

May 27: Emory researchers report lower ICU and ventilator mortality in critically ill adults with COVID-19

May 29: Emory, partners receive $31 million COVID-19 testing grant

Hundreds of health care workers in white coats or scrubs kneel on the Emory Quadrangle

From the Emory Quadrangle to hospitals to homes around the world, thousands of members of the Emory community came together June 5 to protest racist violence and recommit to working for a more just future.

Wearing masks to protect against the COVID-19 pandemic, the crowd that filled the Quad for the “White Coats for Black Lives” vigil knelt in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the length of time George Floyd suffered under the knee of the Minneapolis police officer charged in his death.

June 2020

June 3: Emory doctors study link between thickness of blood, clotting and inflammation in COVID-19 patients

June 12: COVID-19 research: Emory’s work spans the gamut, from bench to bedside

June 16: Emory, state of Georgia collaborate on COVID-19 response

June 18: Emory launches national dashboard to help visualize COVID-19 disparities

A researcher in an Emory lab holds a pipette and wears a face shield and mask

Emory researchers quickly mobilized to address the pandemic, with the university emerging as a national leader in coronavirus-related research. In a span of months, Emory investigators had launched 177 studies, including more than 30 clinical trials, and published more than 350 papers on COVID-19.

July 2020

July 8: Emory key part of newly launched NIH network for COVID-19 clinical trials

July 13: Repurposing a cancer drug to reduce COVID-19 lung inflammation

July 14: COVID-19 vaccine tested at Emory is safe, generates immune response, early results show

A woman receives an injection in her arm. Both the volunteer and the woman administering the injection are wearing face coverings

In early August, Emory administered its first dose for the Phase III clinical trial of an investigational vaccine for COVID-19 co-developed by researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, and biotech company Moderna, Inc.

Emory was also one of three sites that took part in a Phase I study of the same vaccine. Early results from that study found the vaccine was generally well tolerated and generated an immune response among participants.

August 2020

Aug. 4: Emory partners with Mexican Consulate in Atlanta to address COVID-19 disparities in Latinx community

Aug. 11: Phase III of COVID-19 vaccine trial launches at Emory

Aug. 14: Telehealth visits soar as Emory Healthcare keeps patients and doctors connected during pandemic

Emory President Fenves and students pose wearing masks with their arms forming the letter "R" for Emory's Raoul Hall
Emory President Fenves and students pose wearing masks with their arms forming the letter "R" for Emory's Raoul Hall

Move-In Day is a treasured tradition for first-year students joining the Emory community on the Atlanta and Oxford campuses, but starting college in the midst of a global pandemic required new plans and protocols for the Class of 2024.

To help limit campus density in response to COVID-19, Emory’s first-year students were given the option to live on campus this fall or learn from home, while most upper class students continued to engage in remote learning. For those learning on campus, Move-In Day was spread over several days, and face coverings, physical distancing and frequent COVID-19 testing became the norm.

Emory President Gregory L. Fenves (second photo, third from left), who began his new role as the university’s 21st president on Aug. 1., was on hand to safely welcome students as they began moving in Aug. 13 — including learning how to make the Raoul Hall "R."

September 2020

Sept. 8: High antiviral antibody levels may herald pediatric COVID-19 complication

Sept. 9: How COVID-19 impacts the brain

Sept. 10: Professors become students to prepare dynamic remote instruction

Sept. 17: Emory, Fulton County study shows importance of proactive COVID-19 testing to prevent further infection

Sept. 21: Unexplained strokes, delayed symptoms recognition found in study on COVID-19 and ischemic stroke

Sept. 29: COVID-19 vaccine tested at Emory spurs immune response in older adults

A classroom shows a professor teaching wearing a face shield and standing behind a clear plastic barrier
An Emory bus driver sits behind the wheel wearing gloves and a face covering. Passengers are also sitting far apart and wearing face coverings
Students wearing face coverings play volleyball on the Emory quad as the sun sets
A classroom shows a professor teaching wearing a face shield and standing behind a clear plastic barrier
An Emory bus driver sits behind the wheel wearing gloves and a face covering. Passengers are also sitting far apart and wearing face coverings
Students wearing face coverings play volleyball on the Emory quad as the sun sets

Campus life looked distinctly different throughout the fall semester. Students, faculty and staff on campus wore face coverings consistently whether in class, on the job or during safely distanced recreational activities in order to help slow the spread of COVID-19 "For you. For us. For Emory."

October 2020

Oct. 5: Emory shares in $18.2 million NIH award to continue work on COVID-19 tests

Oct. 7: Immune cell activation in severe COVID-19 resembles lupus

Oct. 15: NCI awarding Emory $9.9 million to study cancer, autoimmune intersection with COVID-19

Oct. 15: Emory helps establish national standard of care for COVID-19 treatment

Oct. 29: Emory begins advanced stage clinical trial for another COVID-19 vaccine

A student wearing a face covering holds a frame that says "I voted"

The pandemic did not deter Emory students, faculty and staff from participating in the November elections — either through mail-in ballots or voting in person with face coverings and distancing.

The nonpartisan Emory Votes Initiative promoted civic engagement across Emory’s campuses and Emory was among the nation’s top 10 colleges and universities to engage with TurboVote, a nonpartisan online platform that helps register, inform and educate voters.

November 2020

Nov. 13: Warp Speed chief visits Emory, urges participation in COVID vaccine trials

Nov. 17: Vaccine tested at Emory highly effective in preventing COVID-19, study says

Nov. 20: Emory Healthcare joins major health systems across U.S. in #MaskUp campaign

An Emory Healthcare employee wearing a mask receives the COVID-19 vaccine in her arm

On Dec. 17, Emory Healthcare administered the first COVID-19 vaccinations to its frontline health care workers, providing hope as the pandemic continues to surge across Georgia and the U.S. 

Nicole Baker, an emergency department nurse manager and frontline emergency room nurse at Emory University Hospital, was the first employee to receive the Pfizer vaccination at Emory, following the vaccine’s arrival that morning. Christy Norman, vice president of Emory Healthcare Pharmacy Services, administered the vaccination.

December 2020

Dec. 9: Free COVID-19 test offered as part of Emory research study

Dec. 10: COVID-19 vaccine rollout demands 'unprecedented' level of communication with U.S. public

Dec. 14: Baricitinib speeds COVID-19 recovery in NIAID trial

Three students wearing face coverings and sweatshirts wave from the bridge in front of Cox Hall
Students wearing face coverings sit at tables in an Emory classroom
Three students wearing face coverings and sweatshirts wave from the bridge in front of Cox Hall
Students wearing face coverings sit at tables in an Emory classroom

Emory gained renewed energy Jan. 25, 2021, as most spring semester classes got underway. Face coverings and physical distancing are required for students, faculty and staff on campus, while many continue to learn, teach and work remotely.

The on-campus community expanded moderately, while maintaining one student per room in residence halls. In addition to first-year students and international students, those invited to live on campus this spring include participants in approved undergraduate research programs and experiential learners engaged in professional development necessary for spring degree completion.

January 2021

Jan. 12: Just another common cold virus? Modeling SARS-CoV-2’s future fade

Jan. 12: Emory ranks 5th among U.S. universities for infectious diseases program

Jan. 20: Presidential inauguration features Decatur boy who played trumpet to inspire Emory health care workers

Jan. 26: New semester brings new initiatives and events across Emory

Students in face coverings and warm clothes stand around a fire pit on the Oxford campus. There are Adirondack chairs spaced out in the grass, and string lights hanging above them

“Hygge” refers to the Scandinavian way of creating a cozy, vibrant, comfortable environment that evokes feelings of wellness and contentment.

A new Oxford College initiative that debuted this semester brings the concept to life for students living on campus through outdoor gathering spaces complete with fire pits, string lights and even blankets and pillows. Meanwhile, “Hygge at Home” offers digital options and ideas for students learning remotely.

February 2021

Feb. 2: Community exposure, Black race help predict health care worker risk for positive COVID-19 antibody tests

Feb. 4: Emory-developed COVID-19 vaccine safe, effective in animal models

Feb. 5: Emory expanding post-COVID clinics for 'long haulers'

Feb. 10: Emory launches new vaccination tracker as part of its online health equity dashboard

Feb. 15: NIH grant funds Emory work on indoor air sensor for SARS-CoV-2

Feb. 22: International study finds increased COVID-19 mortality among adults with Down syndrome

Feb. 24: Dr. Anthony Fauci to deliver Emory Commencement address

Volunteers in safety vests wave as they stand in the Emory Vaccination Center at Northlake Mall, housed in the former Kohl's department store.

On a recent morning, volunteers waved as they prepared to greet patients at Emory Healthcare’s COVID-19 vaccination center at Atlanta’s Northlake Mall. Hundreds of Emory and Emory Healthcare staff have volunteered to help at the facility, housed in a former Kohl's department store. To date, Emory Healthcare has administered more than 75,000 vaccines, most at the Northlake site.

“The important thing is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” says Christy Norman, Emory Healthcare’s vice president for pharmacy services. “Launching this so quickly was an incredible undertaking. But rising to a challenge like this – where the public’s health is stake – is in Emory’s DNA.”

March 2021

March 8: COVID-19 antibody study: 1/8 in USA infected by October 2020

Featured photos by Kay Hinton, Jack Kearse, Stephen Nowland, Parth Mody and David Cannon. Portions of this content were originally published as part of Emory's 2020 Year in Review.