John Moore/Getty Images

The defining photos of the pandemic — and the stories behind them

Updated September 20, 2021

John Moore/Getty Images

It was a harrowing scene.

A 92-year-old man was barely breathing and had extremely low oxygen levels, and emergency medical technicians wanted to intubate him right there at his home in Yonkers, New York.

It was April 2020, near the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the man was showing all the symptoms of the disease.

“The man's family, who was there, agreed to the procedure, and they also said that I could stay and photograph as EMTs worked to save his life,” remembers John Moore, a Getty Images photographer.

Moore, who like the EMTs was decked out in personal protective equipment, kept out of their way as he tried to respectfully take photos of the life-threatening situation. Unfortunately, it didn’t have a happy ending. The family told Moore the man died in the ICU a couple of weeks later.

Moore also spent time with emergency medical workers in Stamford, Connecticut, documenting their lives as they worked extremely long hours in the early days of the pandemic.

“After 9/11, firefighters were America’s heroes as first responders. This time, it’s EMS and hospital workers,” Moore said. “I think it’s important to give credit where it’s due and, for me as a photojournalist, to show the importance of their work.”

As the pandemic stretches into a second year, we look back at some of the most memorable photos that have been taken around the world. In these images, we see sorrow, pain and desperation. But we also see love, sacrifice and resilience.

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Children wear plastic bottles as makeshift masks while waiting to check in to a flight at the Beijing Capital Airport in January 2020.

“I took this photograph during the early days when we knew so little about what the virus really was,” photographer Kevin Frayer said. “Many people were leaving China and I went to the airport, which at the time was filled with anxiety and fear. Masks and (personal protective equipment) were hard to get a hold of, and people were wearing ski goggles and plastic garbage bags, among other things. I remember feeling confused and disturbed by the ambiance.

“I spotted this family waiting to enter the security area and noticed that they were wearing water bottles on their heads. I took a few frames but felt uneasy about the scene, which seemed so strange. The parents were doing anything possible to protect their kids.”

Victor Moriyama/The New York Times/Redux

Living quarters are lit up at the Copan Building, a residential building in São Paulo, Brazil, in March 2020.

Many of the residents were about to take part in a protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his handling of the pandemic. Many people across the city expressed their displeasure by banging pots and pans from their windows.

“The Copan Building is one of the cultural and tourist symbols of the city of São Paulo where more than 2,000 people live,” photographer Victor Moriyama said. “I went to the house of a friend whose view was facing the back of Copan and got ready to photograph the windows at the time of the protests, around 8 p.m. The sound of banging pots was insurmountable.”

Jason Redmond/Reuters

Lori Spencer visits her mother, 81-year-old Judie Shape, at the Life Care Center, a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, in March 2020. The facility became an early epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, and Shape was among those who tested positive. She has since recovered.

"Covering the Covid-19 outbreak for Reuters at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, the first known nursing home outbreak in the nation, I realized the heartbreaking danger of patients dying alone, separated from family and loved ones,” photographer Jason Redmond said. “I was truly moved by the courage of Judie Shape, daughter Lori Spencer and her husband Michael Spencer. Witnessing their dedication and support truly moved me. I am forever grateful for Shape and all those affected by the pandemic for allowing us to document and share their journey in these difficult times.”

Peter Cziborra/Reuters

A customer pushes her shopping cart next to empty shelves at a Sainsbury's store in Harpenden, England, in March 2020.

The photo was taken two days after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Britons to stop all nonessential travel.

“There were rumors that a national lockdown would occur, which did in fact take place a few days later, with orders for everyone to stay at home,” remembers photographer Peter Cziborra. “There was a sense of panic amongst many people, and I was hearing stories of supermarkets and grocery stores being stripped of all their produce and empty shelves becoming widespread.

“I arrived at the supermarket and the whole store was almost empty of products, with only the odd item remaining on shelves. The shoppers were walking around almost in a daze. There was a sense of disbelief, and it felt eerily quiet as people walked around with empty trolleys and baskets.”

Emily Elconin/Reuters

Dana Baer and her son Jacob wish Avery Slutsky a happy sixth birthday from their car in West Bloomfield Township, Michigan, in March 2020. The drive-by birthday celebration was held to maintain social distancing.

“It was the last week of March when the statewide stay-at-home-order in Michigan was set in place, and we had just begun adapting to socially distanced interactions,” photographer Emily Elconin said. “This was the first time I had ever seen anything like this — a concept that at first was hard to wrap my head around.

“I asked myself, how long would this go on for? It was my second week back in Michigan after living in Virginia for a year, and what once felt like a familiar place all of a sudden felt very different. I soon realized that this moment was a small indication of what our world would face and learn to adapt.”

Paolo Miranda/AFP/Getty Images

Paolo Miranda took this heartbreaking image of a nurse in Cremona, Italy, as the country’s health care system was being severely tested in March 2020. Miranda also works as a nurse in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

“When I understood the gravity of the situation, I began to document through photography what we were experiencing inside the hospitals, to warn other countries of what was about to happen,” Miranda said. “I believe my photos were the first photos to come out of intensive care.”

He said it hurts to think about those moments, and he still feels angry and frustrated “because after a year, we are still in bad shape.”

Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

Opera singer Stephane Senechal sings for his neighbors from his apartment window in Paris in March 2020. It was the 10th day of a strict lockdown in France.

Senechal also sang from his apartment during a second lockdown later in the year.

"Here, at my window, it's stronger than the opera because I'm not playing a role, I'm myself," he told the Reuters news agency.

Joshua Irwandi

The body of a suspected coronavirus victim is wrapped in plastic in an Indonesian hospital in April 2020. Indonesia government protocols required the bodies of Covid-19 victims to be wrapped in plastic and buried quickly.

"After the image was published by National Geographic, the image went viral, sparked denial and uproar across social media,” photographer Joshua Irwandi said. “Many who saw the image declared it to be a setup intended to spread fear.

“Based on the reaction towards the photograph on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, what stood out was how polarized people’s opinions were regarding the pandemic. At the beginning, people were supportive, people were posting #stayathome all over social media and trying to be supportive. However, attitudes slowly changed when social restrictions came in place and the economy suffered.”

Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Ballet dancer Ashlee Montague wears a gas mask while she dances in New York’s Times Square in March 2020.

“Tourists had gone back to where they came from, and most New Yorkers were staying at home, which left typically crowded places, like Times Square, almost empty,” photographer Andrew Kelly remembers. “It felt like the only people who were down there were people to see such a site. It felt like we were the last people left on Earth.

“It did attract some people trying to get their once-in-a-lifetime shots. People would stand in the middle of the street and take photos as the road remained mostly empty.

“Then I saw Ashlee enter the street. She started dancing and was doing an art project with her friend Laura Kimmel, a photographer in New York. They had been hitting a lot of iconic spots for the project and just so happened to be in Times Square when I was. A lot of people stood around taking photos as Ashlee danced away.”

Alessio Paduano
Alessio Paduano
Alessio Paduano
Alessio Paduano

Alessio Paduano has been documenting the pandemic in Italy, which was one of the earliest and most deadliest hot spots for Covid-19. During the country’s lockdown last year, he spent time with many essential workers, including doctors and nurses.

One of his most vivid memories is from an April 2020 funeral in Locate Bergamasco, a small village in the province of Bergamo.

In one of the photos above, a man and a woman watch a funeral worker move the coffin of their 47-year-old son.

“Obviously before I could take pictures, I had to ask permission from family members. It was a very intimate moment that not everyone wants to share with an outsider,” Paduano recalled. “The relatives were in pain. As soon as the opportunity arose, I approached the dead person's father, explaining the reason for my presence and that I wanted to tell that event with my photos.

“His response, despite the immense pain he was feeling, was immediately positive and of a disarming kindness. He understood the importance of showing others what was happening in Italy. … I don't know if that man will ever read this testimony of mine, but I hope someday he will know that I have great admiration for him.”

Go Nakamura/Getty Images

On Thanksgiving in 2020, Dr. Joseph Varon comforts a patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston. Texas was the first state to pass 1 million coronavirus cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

"As I'm going inside my Covid unit I see that this elderly patient is out of his bed and trying to get out of the room and he's crying,” Varon said. “So, I get close to him and I tell him 'why are you crying' and the man says, 'I want to be with my wife.’ ”

Varon said the man would not be able to see his wife until he tested negative on his swabs and could be discharged. He tested negative about two weeks later, said photographer Go Nakamura.

Nakamura remembers Varon holding the patient for three or four minutes before he calmed down.

“I am glad that I was able to capture the doctor's compassion, and how hard it is mentally for patients to spend a long time stuck in a room without seeing their loved ones,” Nakamura said.

“Patients spend months in the Covid-19 ward only seeing nurses, doctors and other medical professionals who are covered in full (personal protective equipment). It was a very difficult scene to capture.”

Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

A beach in Bournemouth, England, is packed with people during a heat wave in June 2020. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson began easing coronavirus restrictions in May 2020, but people were still supposed to be distancing themselves from one another. After thousands flocked to beaches, officials in southern England declared a "major incident.”

“It was like a lid had come off a pressure cooker with so many people from London coming down,” photographer Finnbarr Webster remembers. “Normally the beach has a real family-friendly feel to it. But on that day it felt the opposite with thousands of mostly young city people, which gave it an almost aggressive party atmosphere.”

Piero Cruciatti/AFP/Getty Images

Giuseppe Corbari holds Sunday Mass in front of photographs that were sent in by his congregation members in Giussano, Italy, in March 2020.

“He received more than 100 photos from his parishioners, which he then printed and stuck to the empty pews of the church to feel less alone while broadcasting Mass over the parish radio,” photographer Piero Cruciatti said.

About a year later, Cruciatti went back to the church.

“This time the church was full of people, all socially distanced and wearing masks,” he said. “I recognized some of them from the pictures I had seen taped to the benches. It was very emotional to see the same church full of people, and I have been told by many of them how happy and grateful they were for being allowed to be physically part of the communal life again.”

Emile Ducke/The New York Times

Elementary school students sit at desks spaced apart in Løgumkloster, Denmark, in April 2020. Denmark was the first country in the Western world to reopen its elementary schools since the start of the pandemic.

Photographer Emile Ducke visited the school on its second day back.

“Before children entered the school building, they were being playfully introduced to social distancing by two teachers with 2-meter-long ropes,” Ducke recalled. “During lessons, as pictured, the children sat at desks spaced about 2 yards apart. Even recess was not the same, as children checked their distancing in a line to go back inside and then washed their hands before returning to class.”

According to UNESCO, nearly 1.3 billion students around the world had their school year suddenly interrupted because of the pandemic. Many of those students, stuck at home, began trying to navigate distance learning as teachers switched to virtual classrooms.

Some schools have reopened, but many have not. And those attending school in person have new safety protocols to follow.

Carlos Osorio/Reuters

People in Toronto participate in an outdoor yoga class in June 2020.

“As Covid-19 measures gradually loosened and the weather warmed last spring, people in Toronto began to emerge from their homes looking for some semblance of ‘normal,’ ” photographer Carlos Osorio said. “Summer in the city was characterized by being outside. Patio get-togethers, drive-in concerts and bubble yoga, which emerged in Toronto in June, were among the ways people escaped the four walls of their homes.”

Osorio remembers it being hot inside the domes.

“Truly hot yoga,” he said. “The participants, who seemed to be mostly die-hard yoga fans, were ecstatic for a chance to practice among others in the community.”

Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Jessica Holguin, left, comforts her younger sister Natalie at the viewing service for their father, Jose, in New York City. Jose Holguin, 50, died in May 2020 of complications related to Covid-19.

“I had a lot of images of people gathered by Jose’s body that day, but something about this frame, that features no coffin or body, really hits you in the gut. It’s pure grief,” photographer Andrew Kelly said.

Jessica and Natalie welcomed him to the funeral, explaining that it was important to them to not only highlight what Covid-19 was doing to families such as their own, but to the Hispanic community as well.

“It was incredibly brave for Jessica and Natalie to let me in and document the worst moment of their lives in order for a greater good,” Kelly said. “I’m not sure I could do it myself. I like to think that there are people to this day who saw this image and, thinking of their own family, remembered to wear a mask as they left the house. Maybe without even knowing it, they avoided contracting coronavirus and denied their family the same fate that the Holguins had to suffer.”

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Mountain goats roam the quiet streets of Llandudno, Wales, in March 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic left empty spaces everywhere as people stayed at home and avoided crowds to slow the spread of the virus. With less human traffic, emboldened animals started exploring areas where we are not always used to seeing them.

“At a time of the world seeing images of death and the fallout of coronavirus, this was like a weird good-news story: animals reinheriting the Earth in the chaos of that early lockdown period,” photographer Christopher Furlong said. “At the time, I was mainly just documenting the emptiness, taking photos of empty streets, empty beaches, empty parks. Getting to photograph those ebullient goats definitely made for a few smiles and a nice break from the monotony of those bleak days.”

Themba Hadebe/AP

In May 2020, Themba Hadebe photographed people as they lined up to receive food donations at the Iterileng settlement near Laudium, South Africa.

Many African countries introduced lockdowns in the early days of the pandemic, but those lockdowns also aggravated existing inequalities.

For example, after a lockdown that started in late March 2020, South Africa announced a $26 billion Covid-19 stimulus package. But undocumented migrant workers were not eligible for unemployment insurance or government grants.

When he took this photo, Hadebe remembers the desperation of the community. “I was overwhelmed and surprised by the number of people that were already queuing on a dusty soccer field,” he said. “That, for me, was the effect or the face of ruthless Covid-19.”

Gabriele Galimberti

A woman’s reflection is seen as she looks at a coffin in a Milan, Italy, mortuary in March 2020. Italy was put under a dramatic total lockdown as Covid-19 spread in the country.

“The streets were empty and the hospitals were full, and within days even the cemeteries began to run out of places,” remembers photographer Gabriele Galimberti. “That day I went to the municipal cemetery in Milan, I wanted to see with my own eyes what the situation was.

“As soon as I entered I came across this scene. A woman was looking at a coffin through a protective glass. In the coffin was the body of a foreign man who was waiting to be transported to the airport to be repatriated to his country. On that day, Italy already had 890 dead. It already seemed like a lot and everyone found it hard to believe. Today, one year later, the number of dead has exceeded 100,000.”

Timothy Fadek
Timothy Fadek
Timothy Fadek
Timothy Fadek

Timothy Fadek had been documenting New York City since its lockdown — the longest in the country — started in April 2020 and ended in June 2020.

He remembers how eerie it was to see his bustling city transformed into a ghost town. Coney Island was deserted. Fleets of taxis went unused.

“All you heard were ambulance sirens constantly, especially at the peak, and that was in the midst of a desolate street landscape where there were no cars,” Fadek said.

There was also the nightly acknowledgement of health care workers, when people would go to their windows or open their doors to cheer or make noise to show their appreciation.

One of Fadek’s photos above shows bodies at a Queens funeral home waiting to be transported for cremation.

“The funeral directors and embalmers at the Gerard J. Neufeld Funeral Home were working 18-hour days trying to keep up with the onslaught of Covid-19 fatalities coming through their doors,” he said. “At the height of the pandemic, they managed more than 30 burials or cremations a day. Before the pandemic, they would manage that number of deceased in a typical month.”

Vatican News/Sipa USA/AP

Pope Francis delivers his blessing to an empty St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in March 2020. To try to slow the spread of the virus, people were being asked to avoid crowds and limit their travel. Many governments issued stay-at-home orders. It left behind an eerie emptiness.

"In this situation of pandemic, in which we find ourselves living more or less isolated, we are invited to rediscover and deepen the value of the communion that unites all the members of the Church," the Pope said in his remarks after the Angelus prayer, which was livestreamed by Vatican News.

BBT University/Cover Images/AP

Because of the pandemic, Business Breakthrough University in Tokyo held a virtual graduation ceremony using robots in March 2020.

The graduates watched their ceremony through their robot's point of view.

Schools around the world have had to get creative with their graduation ceremonies. Many have been held in empty auditoriums or in parking lots with students in their vehicles.

Paolo Hospital Samutprakarn

A nurse adjusts a face shield on a newborn baby at a hospital in Thailand's Samut Prakan province in April 2020.

The Paolo Hospital said on Facebook that it was giving out face shields for the babies’ trip home with their parents. It was not supposed to be worn all the time.

It was one of several Thai hospitals crafting face shields for babies as an extra precaution against Covid-19.

André Coelho/Getty Images

A man waits for the body of his aunt Lucia Rodrigues dos Santos to be collected in Manaus, Brazil, in May 2020.

The 60-year-old matriarch died from Covid-19, according to photographer André Coelho, who was following a team that was gathering bodies in Manaus and helping low-income families hold burials.

“At a certain moment, the team guys went to the van to bring the casket and I was left alone in the room with a nephew who was mourning,” Coelho said.

Coelho remembers Raimundo, Lucia’s husband, asking to give his wife a farewell kiss as her body was carried away.

“Outside, the crowd was bigger and I heard some neighbors screaming,” Coelho recalled.

William Luther/San Antonio Express-News/ZUMA Wire

People wait in their cars for the San Antonio Food Bank to begin distributing food in April 2020. The coronavirus pandemic put millions of Americans out of work, and more and more families had to turn to food banks to get by.

William Luther, a staff photographer with the San Antonio Express-News, used a drone to get this shot.

“Even after covering my share of natural disasters, I had never seen so many people lined up for food,” he explained in a Q&A the newspaper published. “I try not to get too emotionally involved while on assignment, but seeing all those cars made me realize how important it was for me to do my absolute best documenting the scene so people would understand how dire the situation was.”

Andrew Seng/The New York Times/Redux

Members of the National Guard disinfect surfaces at a Jewish Community Center in Scarsdale, New York, in March 2020.

Officials in Westchester County had set up a “containment area” to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the area.

Photographer Andrew Seng recalled this as “really the beginning of the pandemic” in the state of New York.

“There was a lot of fear, and everyone was just figuring it out as we went along,” he said. “I had covered natural disasters before — wildfires and floods — but to photograph an enemy you couldn’t see just felt more sinister.”

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Unclaimed bodies are buried on Hart Island, a New York City public cemetery, in April 2020. For a short while, New York was the epicenter of the US coronavirus outbreak.

Photographer Lucas Jackson took this photo just weeks after he contracted Covid-19 himself.

“In the time between contracting the disease and being back at work to take this photograph, the ramifications of the pandemic's spread in New York had very viscerally changed from theoretical to frighteningly real,” he recalled. “For several weeks after discovering I was positive, I was quarantined at home, glued to the constant stream of images taken by peers and co-workers who every day walked into the unknown risk of the city to document what was happening. This was not a small risk either; photographers cannot work from home.”

Jackson used a drone to take aerial photos of the Hart Island burials.

“The scene seemed so surreal, with implications so sobering, that I was optimistic it would be impossible for anyone to doubt the pandemic's effects after the images published,” he said.

Victor J. Blue/The New York Times/Redux

Dr. Erroll Byer Jr., the head of obstetrics and gynecology at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York, shows Precious Anderson her newborn son on a live video feed in April 2020. The hospital delivered her baby two months early because she was struggling with the coronavirus.

“She was delighted to finally meet her son, and exhausted by what they had both been through,” photographer Victor J. Blue said. “We published the story just as the first wave of the pandemic was crashing over New York City, and I was happy to inject a rare ray of hope into the relentless darkness of the news of the virus.

“It is strange to remember how little we knew about the Covid-19 at that point, and we were able to relieve at least one source of anxiety for readers about the disease — that it would not be a death sentence for pregnant women.”

Gilles Sabrié/The New York Times/Redux

A man eats by himself in a Beijing bar, in a neighborhood usually bustling with people, in February 2020. This was a month before the World Health Organization officially declared a pandemic.

“Beijing was a few weeks into a lockdown that strictly restricted the movements in and out of the city,” photographer Gilles Sabrié said. “The lake was silent, the bars were shut down — a throwback to my first visit to Beijing, 20 years before, when the area was undeveloped and romantic.

“But a sadness in the air prevented me from enjoying this bout of nostalgia. The economic loss and the solitude induced by the pandemic were overwhelming.”

Michael Dantas/AFP/Getty Images
Michael Dantas/AFP/Getty Images
Michael Dantas/AFP/Getty Images
Michael Dantas/AFP/Getty Images

Photographer Michael Dantas lives in Manaus, one of the Brazilian cities hardest-hit by Covid-19.

The first two photos were taken by Dantas in 2020, when Manaus was dealing with one of the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreaks. The first shows Ulisses Xavier, a worker at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery, making wooden crosses for the graves.

The bottom two photos were taken in 2021 as Manaus dealt with a second wave of cases.

“The year started with many deaths, a lot of people getting sick,” Dantas said. “We lost friends, people we knew, and unfortunately my wife’s mother was infected with the coronavirus. She is this lady in the picture lying in our home after spending 15 days in the hospital. I had to stop all my work to support my family.”

The last photo, he said, shows the despair of two health workers who were talking outside after a hospital’s oxygen supply ran out in January 2021.

Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

People sit in New York's Domino Park in May 2020. The painted circles, spaced 6 feet apart, were meant to encourage social distancing. It was a novel approach then; it’s much more common now.

Photographer Johannes Eisele said it was the first New York City park he saw that had those circles.

“After covering the pandemic for quite a while already, it became quite difficult to come up with ways to illustrate the story,” he remembers. “For example, Central Park was packed with people, and the only thing to see were some people wearing masks and those big signs saying keep 2 meters distance. When I heard that Domino Park put up circles for people to sit, I thought it would be very visual.”

Joshua A. Bickel/The Columbus Dispatch/USA Today Network

Protesters stand outside the Statehouse Atrium in Columbus, Ohio, to voice their opposition to stay-at-home orders in April 2020.

About 100 protesters assembled outside the building during Gov. Mike DeWine’s weekday update on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Other states also saw protests as people grew more concerned about the pandemic’s economic fallout.

“At the time I made this image, I remember a feeling of fear and uncertainty,” photographer Joshua A. Bickel said. “I was definitely afraid of contracting coronavirus and spreading it because my job required me to be outside of my home, and that’s the main reason I decided to stay inside the Statehouse that day and why this image is composed the way it is.

“I remember the protesters were very angry, and some were verbally aggressive to members of the media both inside and outside the Statehouse on this day and during a smaller protest a few days prior. It’s hard for me to look at this image almost a year later and not draw comparisons between this event and the events at the US Capitol on January 6. I look back at this image and see the effects of disinformation and the beginnings of radicalization, and I think there’s evidence that both events were rooted in those things.”

Emilio Morenatti/AP

Francisco España, who was recovering from the coronavirus, looks at the Mediterranean Sea from a promenade in Barcelona, Spain, in September 2020.

Hospital del Mar was taking patients to the seaside as part of their recovery process.

“It’s important to keep in mind the emotional well-being of patients and to try to work on it in the early stages of the recovery,” Dr. Judith Marín told the Associated Press.

Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian/AP

Go-go dancers perform in the Lucky Devil Lounge parking lot in Portland, Oregon, while customers sit in their cars in April 2020. During the pandemic, more and more people have turned to drive-thrus and drive-ins to keep their distance from one another and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“It's not visible in this specific frame, but each of the dancers was wearing a mask and gloves,” photographer Beth Nakamura said. “Between the pandemic accoutrement, the go-go dancing and the pulsating lights and music, it was all very cinematic, like a post-apocalyptic fever dream.”

She thought the hybrid vehicle really gave the scene a “local feel” with many people in Portland being environmentally conscious.

“Only in Portland would you find not just a drive-thru strip club in a pandemic, but a drive-thru strip club in a pandemic with Prius-driving customers,” she said.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Tyler and Caryn Suiters embrace after being married in Arlington, Virginia, in April 2020. The moment was photographed by Getty Images photographer Win McNamee. The Rev. Andrew Merrow and his wife, Cameron, were the only other attendees at the ceremony due to social-distancing guidelines.

Because of the pandemic, many couples have had to rethink their wedding plans — whether it be postponing the ceremonies or scaling them down for safety reasons.

Jae C. Hong/AP

Romelia Navarro, right, is comforted by nurse Michele Younkin while sitting at the bedside of her dying husband, Antonio, at a hospital in Fullerton, California, in July 2020.

Navarro and her son, Juan, were saying their final goodbyes. Her sobbing grew louder as her husband’s heart rate started dropping, remembers photographer Jae C. Hong. Hong could also see tears through the nurse’s face shield.

“It was very emotional, more than I could handle,” Hong said. “Navarro was Younkin’s first Covid-19 patient to pass on her watch. It was my first time seeing someone die in my career and in my life.

“When the patient’s heart rate dropped to zero, I left the room quietly. The nurse came out a few minutes after. She removed her protective equipment and washed her hands. Wiping her tears, the nurse walked away for fresh air. I decided not to follow her.”

Gabriela Bhaskar/The New York Times/Redux

Shoppers load up on supplies at a New York City Costco in March 2020. In the early days of the pandemic, many people began stocking up on food, toilet paper, and other necessities. As a response to panic buying, retailers in the United States and Canada started limiting the number of toilet paper that customers could buy in one trip.

“When this image was taken, most people were preparing to quarantine not knowing when and for how long,” photographer Gabriela Bhaskar said. “It was my second day covering the panic buying, and the reporter on this story and I were trying to figure out how people were feeling, if there really was a shortage of supplies as toilet paper, soap, sanitizer and masks were already impossible to find in some neighborhoods. There were a few moments that week where I asked myself, ‘Are you panicking based on facts or because panic is contagious?’ ”

Kathleen Flynn/Reuters

Dana Clark and her 18-month-old son, Mason, wait in line at City Hall as early voting began in New Orleans in October 2020. Clark, a teacher, said she donned this protective “safety pod” because Mason didn’t have a mask and she didn't know how many people would be wearing masks in line.

“She bought the pod for when she was to return to the classroom with her fifth-grade social studies students,” photographer Kathleen Flynn said. “She wanted to protect them as much as she hoped she could protect her own kids and her husband, who has underlying health issues.

“I feel like this image illustrates a convergence of so many pressing issues from this year — fear of contagion, hope for her child’s future, pressures facing educators and a wish for racial justice. And a determination to vote during one of the most contested and important elections of our lifetime.”

Atul Loke/Panos Pictures/Redux
Atul Loke/The New York Times/Redux
Atul Loke/The New York Times/Redux
Atul Loke/The New York Times/Redux

Photographer Atul Loke has been covering the pandemic from India. His photos provide a glimpse into the country.

A boat owner waits in vain for passengers at the Dal Lake in Srinagar; without tourists, many boat owners were facing financial crisis. A woman passes through a sanitation tunnel at a containment zone in south Mumbai, the city Loke calls home. A worker fumigates a Mumbai vegetable market while a vendor rests on the ground.

“There was an unlikely eeriness to (Mumbai), a city that never sleeps,” Loke said. “And being a photojournalist for more than two decades, I hadn’t seen my city brought to such a standstill.”

Loke said one of his editors, after witnessing his photos, told him that he didn’t need to put himself at such risk. Loke said he felt compelled to tell the story.

“If this isn’t documented and left for generations to see, then words will only fail to suffice what my heart and eyes felt,” Loke said. “I wouldn’t be able to sleep peacefully knowing I let it pass, not doing what as a photographer was my calling.”

Jordi Vidal/Getty Images

The UceLi Quartet performs for an audience of plants during a June 2020 concert that was live-streamed from the newly reopened Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house in Barcelona, Spain.

A total of 2,292 plants were packed into the theater while the string quartet performed Puccini's "Crisantemi.” The event was the work of conceptual artist Eugenio Ampudia.

“Arriving at my position, I was caught by the extreme silence, not the usual talking, the usual late arrivals — just an extreme silence and a sense of desolation,” photographer Jordi Vidal said. “Then the quartet began to perform ‘Crisantemi’ and it felt like quite a surreal moment. … I wondered how the musicians felt when they finished performing. No claps or ovations, just that silence again.”

Each of the plants was brought in from nearby nurseries and would be donated to a health care worker from the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona.

Alyson McClaran/Reuters

A health care worker stands in a Denver street, counterprotesting an April 2020 rally where people were demanding that stay-at-home orders be lifted.

“The health care workers wanted to get their message across that people need to stay home to protect themselves and protect the people in the medical field,” photographer Alyson McClaran said. “This image captures the conflict and division surrounding Covid-19 precautions in the USA.”

McClaran said she was only at this scene for a few minutes.

“In that time, a man exited his car to get in the health care workers’ face and a lady hung her body out screaming profanity and telling them to get out of the road,” McClaran said. “The Denver Police Department came and asked them to step out of the road and to stop blocking traffic on green lights.”

Glenna Gordon

A medical team cares for Imani, a 22-year-old from Texas, after she had an abortion in Los Angeles. In the early days of the pandemic, many states put a temporary ban on elective surgeries and medical procedures deemed nonessential. For several states, that included abortion.

It didn’t take long for abortion providers to challenge the new restrictions. In some states, several judges blocked the bans. Others were eventually lifted by the states themselves. But for weeks, many women like Imani were left in limbo. (CNN agreed to use a pseudonym to protect her identity.)

Photographer Glenna Gordon had been trying for a while to do a story about the nation’s “abortion deserts” — areas of the United States where women have to travel long distances to obtain an abortion. She never expected a pandemic to make things even harder.

“At the terrifying beginning of the pandemic, Imani was one of countless women who suddenly found herself without access to abortion,” Gordon said. “She did what she needed to do and came to California.”

Todd Heisler/The New York Times/Redux

Cardboard cutouts replace fans in the stands as the New York Mets hosted the Atlanta Braves in their season opener in July 2020. Major League Baseball started a 60-game abbreviated season four months after Opening Day was postponed because of the pandemic. For much of the year, games were played without fans.

“What I remember most about this day are the recorded sounds of fans piped into the stadium,” New York Times photographer Todd Heisler said. “On television, the sounds and the cutouts gave the illusion of a sense of normalcy. But being there in person only seemed to make the lack of fans more pronounced.

“I wondered what the players were feeling as they took the field for the first time since the pandemic began. I wasn't really interested in photographing game action. I needed to step back and make an image that captured a specific moment in history. Without context, it was just another baseball game.”

Mario Tama/Getty Images

El Paso County inmates load the bodies of coronavirus victims into a refrigerated trailer in El Paso, Texas, in November 2020. They were temporarily relieving overworked personnel at the El Paso County Medical Examiner's Office, authorities said. The county was one of Texas' Covid-19 hot spots.

“These low-level inmates represent just a few of the thousands of ‘last responders’ who courageously handled the remains of the deceased across the US,” photographer Mario Tama said.

Tama took the photo from an adjacent cemetery, the only place he could capture images on the ground.

“As photojournalists, our job is to document reality, no matter how beautiful or tragic,” he said. “We did our best to sensitively and accurately document the reality of the pandemic in hospitals, funeral homes, morgues and cemeteries across the country.”

Daniel Kim/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Wire

First-grader Sophia Frazier does her schoolwork behind a plastic divider at Two Rivers Elementary School in Sacramento, California, in March 2021. Only the students near the teacher’s desk appeared to have the dividers.

“I have never seen a sight like this while covering schools,” photographer Daniel Kim said. “When I captured the moment, I could clearly see that this girl was uncomfortable with the new ways she had to learn; it shows in her face. I thought that this picture captured the moment in time that a lot of students are facing in the world with the new Covid-19 protocols.”

Al Bello/Getty Images

Olivia Grant, right, hugs her grandmother, Mary Grace Sileo, through a plastic cloth hung on a clothesline in Wantagh, New York, in May 2020. The two were seeing each other for the first time since the pandemic started.

“I remember thinking how emotional everything got for Mary Grace once her kids and grandchildren showed up,” photographer Al Bello said. “At the time, she had not seen them in several months and she wanted to have some sort of contact. She held each child and grandchild through the plastic sheet very tightly and did not let go for a long time.”

Bello is a renowned sports photographer for Getty Images, but he chipped in to help cover the pandemic and he said it was a great learning experience for him.

“My goal of this pandemic was to show pictures of hope, humanity, love and kindness,” he said. “I would like to think this is all of those things in one picture.”

Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/Redux

US President Donald Trump takes off his face mask for a photo op after he returned to the White House in October 2020. Trump had just spent three nights at the hospital receiving treatment for Covid-19.

“I feel like for all those who covered the White House that weekend, the whole period of time was intense with trying to figure out the timeline when President Trump tested positive and dig for the truth about how severe his illness was,” photographer Anna Moneymaker said. “On top of that we're also trying to be mindful of our own exposure, because several journalists had tested positive or gone into quarantine the week prior after traveling with President Trump in the days leading up to him testing positive.

“A little bit after President Trump returned from the hospital and the press pool had gone back to file, this custodial worker wearing a hazmat suit walked through our work area spraying disinfectant around the press briefing room, which I’d seen happen in pictures from New York City or cities in China or Italy, but never in my own work space.”

Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Ann Webb Camp, left, and Clemintine Banks hand a ballot to a voter in St. Louis in November 2020. People with Covid-19 were able to do curbside voting there.

“We had been photographing early voting for weeks and it was beginning to all look the same,” said photographer Robert Cohen of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “What I discovered was this tiny voter niche I hadn't considered: those people who had just found out that they tested positive, realized they couldn't go to the polls the following day yet badly wanted to cast their vote.”

People came by appointment only, Cohen said, pressing their IDs against the glass and cracking the window only to take their ballot.

“The four poll workers of the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners — Diane Carroll, Traviance Stidham, Ann Webb Camp and Clemintine Banks — were so welcoming,” he said. “They waved to the voters, some of whom wanted to take selfies of their moon-suited helpers. In one case, one of the voters' cars wouldn't restart to leave. A poll worker phoned her husband to come and help.”

Jacob King/Pool/Getty Images

Margaret Keenan, 90, is applauded in December 2020 after she became the first person in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine.

The United Kingdom was the first nation to begin vaccinating its citizens with a fully vetted and authorized Covid-19 shot, a landmark moment in the coronavirus pandemic.

Keenan, who received the vaccine a week before turning 91, said she felt "privileged" to be the first to get the shot. "It's the best early birthday present I could wish for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the New Year after being on my own for most of the year," she said.

Jacob King, who took this photo, said he remembers the day clearly.

“It felt an important moment then and still does so now,” he said. “In the UK, April means the gradual easing of the lockdown due to decreasing infection levels coupled with the vaccination program.”


  • Writer: Kyle Almond
  • Photo editors: Brett Roegiers, Bernadette Tuazon, Benazir Wehelie and Rebecca Wright