2020’s Year in Pictures

The new decade brought the challenge of a century: a deadly and unflinching global pandemic that radically upended our lives and kept on killing.

As the United States watched China scramble to build a new hospital in January to prepare for Covid-19’s surge and heard about overwhelmed health care workers in Italy, few in America initially imagined just how much their daily routines would be disturbed.

The coronavirus transformed the world into something barely recognizable: desolate city streets, citizens donning masks, social distancing, anti-lockdown protests, even the digging of mass graves in New York. Crowded bars suddenly inspired terror; a hug between a grandparent and grandchild inspired envy — and dread.

While many Americans tried to cope with living under lockdown — and the consequent tanking of the economy — concerns about police violence and systemic racism animated a movement. Unsure about the safety of gathering in large outdoor crowds as the pandemic raged, citizens took the streets nonetheless, demanding justice for Black Americans like George Floyd and insisting that America confront its deep, enduring racism. 

This all happened amid a presidential election fraught with fear and loathing about the future, as President Donald Trump and now President-elect Joe Biden navigated campaigning in a pandemic.

These images, curated by our photo editors, capture the pain, grief, rage, resilience, loneliness and even hope that defined a watershed year.


Wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk holds a koala in a burning forest near Cape Borda on Kangaroo Island, southwest of Adelaide, Australia, on Jan. 7. (David Mariuz / AAP Image via Reuters)

Climate change deniers blamed Australia’s wildfires on arson, but experts said that the exaggerated claims were part of a widespread disinformation campaign and that arson alone cannot explain the blazes.

Lightning strikes over Batangas as the Taal volcano erupts in the Philippines, on Jan. 12. (Domcar C. Lagto / Pacific Press / Sipa via AP)

A small volcano south of the Philippine capital erupted with a massive plume of ash and steam prompting thousands of people to flee and officials to shut Manila’s international airport. 

A child runs toward a dust storm in Mullengudgery in New South Wales, Australia, on Jan. 17. (Marcia Macmillan / AFP – Getty Images)

Dust storms hit parts of Australia’s western New South Wales amid a prolonged drought. 

Excavators at the construction site of a new hospital to treat coronavirus patients in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 24. (AFP – Getty Images)

Construction of a hospital in Wuhan to handle patients infected with the coronavirus began Jan. 24 with a crew of 7,000 people working around the clock. Chinese state media carried live video of the construction site, and the 1,000-bed hospital opened just 10 days later.

Children wear plastic bottles to protect against the coronavirus while waiting to check in to a flight in Beijing on Jan. 30. (Kevin Frayer / Getty Images)
Officials stand near an elderly man who collapsed and died on a street near a hospital in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 20. (Hector Retamal / AFP – Getty Images)
Lakers forward LeBron James cries during the national anthem after a pre-game tribute to Kobe Bryant at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Jan. 31. (Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 29 along with seven others as they traveled to a basketball tournament in Thousand Oaks, California, where Gianna was supposed to play. 


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tears her copy of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address after he delivered it to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 4. (Patrick Semansky / AP)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she felt “liberated” as she lashed out at President Trump for spreading “falsehoods” in his State of the Union address and defended her decision to tear up a copy of the speech. 

President Donald Trump celebrates his impeachment acquittal at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington on Feb. 6. (Evan Vucci / AP)

The Senate acquitted President Donald Trump almost entirely along party lines on charges of abusing his power and obstructing Congress, bringing an end to the third presidential impeachment trial in United States history.

Kwak Sin Ae and Bong Joon Ho win the Oscar for Best Picture for “Parasite” at the Academy Awards in Hollywood on Feb. 9. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters)

The South Korean director Bong Joon Ho and his masterful social thriller “Parasite” won best original screenplay, best international film, best director and best picture, the first non-English language film to win best picture in the Oscars’ 92-year history. 

Mice scrap over a crumb of food on a London Underground station platform. (Sam Rowley / Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

The fight lasted a split second, and the mice went their separate ways. The photo was the winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year LUMIX People’s Choice Award. 

Supporters pray with President Donald Trump after a news conference and meeting at the White House on Feb. 27. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
One-year-old Yazan has his oxygen mask removed after heart surgery at the Tajoura National Heart Center in Tripoli, Libya, on Feb. 27. Yazan’s perilous trek from his small desert hometown culminated in a five-hour operation. (Felipe Dana / AP)


Jill Biden blocks an anti-dairy protester who tried to reach the stage during a primary night rally for Joe Biden in Los Angeles on March 3. (Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“I tell you my wife’s something else, isn’t she?” Biden said. “I wasn’t scared for me, I was worried for Jill. She is incredible.” 

Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, attend The Endeavour Fund Awards in London on March 5. (Samir Hussein / WireImage)

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex stunned their subjects by announcing earlier in the year that they intended to “step back” from Buckingham Palace and divide their time between the United Kingdom and North America. 

A nurse comforts a colleague in the ICU of a hospital in Cremona, Italy, southeast of Milan, on March 13. (Paolo Miranda / AFP – Getty Images)

More than 2,500 people died in about four weeks in Italy. With over 31,500 confirmed cases, the country’s doctors and nurses — particularly in the hardest-hit cities in the north — were struggling to keep up. 

President Donald Trump passes Dr. Anthony Fauci as he leaves a coronavirus task force daily briefing at the White House on March 26. (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

President Trump has had a tense relationship with Dr. Anthony Fauci, calling the infectious disease specialist a “disaster” in an October phone call with campaign staff and saying every time Fauci goes on television there is a “bomb.”


A Covid-19 patient is moved out of the intensive care unit of the Pope John XXIII Hospital in Bergamo, Italy. (Marco Di Lauro / Getty Images)
Workers bury bodies in a trench on Hart Island in New York City on April 9. (John Minchillo / AP)

As the death toll mounted in New York, the city’s public cemetery started receiving about the same amount of bodies per day that it used to bury there each week.  Normally, about 25 bodies a week are interred on the island, mostly for people whose families can’t afford a funeral, or who go unclaimed by relatives. Burial operations increased from one day a week to five days a week, with around 24 burials a day.  

Hashim, an essential worker in the health care industry, greets his daughter through a closed door in New Rochelle, N.Y., on April 11. (John Malone / Reuters)
A health care worker stands in front of a car in counterprotest to hundreds of people who gathered at the State Capitol in Denver on April 19 to demand that a stay-at-home order be lifted. (Alyson McClaran / Reuters)
A protester yells at Michigan State Police officers as he tries to enter the House of Representative chamber at the state Capitol in Lansing. (Jeff Kowalsky / AFP – Getty Images)

Hundreds of people, some carrying guns, protested outside the Michigan Capitol building in Lansing, with some pushing inside while the Legislature was debating an extension of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s state of emergency in response to the pandemic.


Olivia Grant, right, hugs her grandmother, Mary Grace Sileo, through a plastic drop cloth hung up on a homemade clothes line in Wantagh, N.Y., on May 24. It was the first time they had contact since the pandemic began. (Al Bello / Getty Images)
Protests broke out in Minneapolis on May 28 over the death of George Floyd. (Julio Cortez / AP)

Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer, was shown on video putting his knee on George Floyd’s neck for almost 8 minutes, including almost two minutes after Floyd appeared to stop breathing. Chauvin was later fired and faces trial on murder and manslaughter charges.

A woman with “BLM” written on her cheek poses during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Atlanta on May 31 . (Elijah Nouvelage / Getty Images)


President Donald Trump holds a Bible while visiting St. John’s Church across from the White House after the area was cleared of people protesting Floyd’s death on June 1. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP – Getty Images)

Lawmakers and religious leaders voiced outrage after police used tear gas against peaceful protesters outside the White House before President Donald Trump’s photo op at the nearby church. 

Protester Patrick Hutchinson carries an injured counterprotester to safety near Waterloo station during a Black Lives Matter protest in London on June 13. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters)

The picture of Patrick Hutchinson and the injured white man became a viral sensation on social media, capturing a moment of drama that jarred with the broader narrative of anti-racist and far-right protesters fighting one another.

Three-year-old Merlin Coles watches a horse race at his home in Bere Regis, England, on June 17. He sat on his horse, Mr. Glitter Sparkles, with his dog, Mistress. (Paul Childs / Reuters)
Musicians from the string quartet UceLi Quarte perform Puccini’s “Crisantemi” for an audience of 2,292 plants in Barcelona, Spain, on June 22. The plants were later delivered to health care professionals. (Jordi Vidal / Getty Images)
A couple draws gun on protesters in their neighborhood during a rally against police brutality in St. Louis on June 28. (Lawrence Bryant / Reuters)

Albert Watkins, a lawyer for the couple — husband-and-wife attorneys Mark and Patricia McCloskey — insisted his clients were “in fear of imminent harm.”  


A large mural depicting Breonna Taylor is painted on the ground at Chambers Park in Annapolis, Maryland, on July 5. The mural was organized by Future History Now in partnership with the Banneker-Douglass Museum and the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture. (Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

Breonna Taylor was shot and killed in her home in Louisville, Kentucky, in a police raid in March. Her family said in a lawsuit that the officers were executing a “botched” search warrant, and that Taylor and her boyfriend thought the officers were intruders. 

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda on July 27. (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the longtime advocate of nonviolent protest who had his skull fractured by Alabama state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965, was the last surviving speaker from 1963’s March on Washington. 

Nurse Michele Younkin comforts Romelia Navarro at the bedside of her dying husband, Antonio, in St. Jude Medical Center’s Covid-19 unit in Fullerton, Calif., on July 31. Antonio was the first Covid-19 patient to die on Younkin’s watch. (Jae C. Hong / AP)


An explosion in Beirut on Aug. 4. sowed devastation across entire neighborhoods, killing 200 people, wounding thousands and plunging Lebanon deeper into crisis. (Anwar Amro/ AFP via Getty Images)
The damage at Beirut port’s grain silos and the area around it on Aug. 5. (AFP – Getty Images)

The blast in Beirut, one of the largest nonnuclear explosions on record, was caused by highly explosive chemicals stored for years in poor conditions at the port.

Protesters march on Aug. 9 in New York City to demand the arrest of the officers responsible for Breonna Taylor’s death. (David Dee Delgado / Getty Images)
Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris celebrate the end of the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 20 in Wilmington, Del. At left is Biden’s wife, Jill, and at right is Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff. (Andrew Harnik / AP)

Five decades after he entered national politics, Joe Biden accepted his party’s nomination for president on the final night of the all-virtual convention.

Men walk toward law enforcement in Kenosha, Wis., on Aug. 24, following the shooting of Jacob Blake. (Brandon Bell / Getty Images)

Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times in the back by police, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down and igniting weeks of protests in Wisconsin. 

Juliana, who said she was four months pregnant, screams in front of her husband’s body after he was shot during a police operation following a confrontation between drug gangs in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 27. (Ricardo Moraes / Reuters)
Two women kiss under the former Belarusian flag used by the opposition as an emblem in Minsk, on Aug. 30. (AP)

Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, for the fourth week of daily protests demanding that the country’s authoritarian president resign.  


Embers light up a hillside behind the Bidwell Bar Bridge as the Bear Fire burns in Oroville, Calif., on Sept. 9. (Noah Berger /AP)

Wildfires in Northern California, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region. 

Shayanne Summers holds her dog, Toph, on Sept. 13 after several days at an evacuation center at the Milwaukie-Portland Elks Lodge in Oak Grove, Ore. (John Locher / AP)

“It’s nice enough here you could almost think of this as camping and forget everything else, almost,” said Shayanne Summers after evacuating from nearby Molalla, Ore., which was threatened by the Riverside Fire. 

President Donald Trump during a campaign rally at Cecil Airport in Jacksonville, Fla., on Sept. 24. (Tom Brenner / Reuters)
Former clerks for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wait for her casket to arrive at the Supreme Court on Sept. 23. (Saul Loeb / AFP – Getty Images)

The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg opened a crucial Supreme Court seat that President Trump quickly filled. 

Supporters of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court pray while touching the doors of the court as Jacquelyn Booth lays on the ground mourning the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sept. 26. (Erin Schaff / The New York Times via Redux)

Amy Coney Barrett, 48, became the fifth woman to serve on the Supreme Court and the current court’s youngest justice. 

Maricopa County Constable Darlene Martinez escorts a family out of their apartment after serving an eviction order for nonpayment in Phoenix on Sept. 30. (John Moore / Getty Images)


President Donald Trump pulls off his mask after returning to the White House from being hospitalized with Covid-19 at Walter Reed Medical Center on Oct. 5. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“Don’t be afraid of Covid,” President Trump tweeted before leaving Walter Reed Medical Center. “Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”

Dana Clark wears a safety pod as she waits in line to vote with her 18-month-old son, Mason, as early voting began for the presidential election in New Orleans on Oct. 16. (Kathleen Flynn / Reuters)
Barack Obama at a campaign rally for Joe Biden in Philadelphia on Oct. 21. (Matt Slocum / AP)

In a rare gloves-off moment, former President Barack Obama tore into his successor in personal and policy terms.

Clair Hebert Marceaux at the site where her home once was in Cameron, La., on Oct. 27. (Bryan Tarnowski/ for NBC News)

The powerful Category 4 Hurricane Laura that pummeled southwestern Louisiana in August destroyed the home where Clair Hebert Marceaux had lived for nine years. 


Voters wait in line at Church of the Servant in Oklahoma City on Election Day. (Nick Oxford / Reuters)
Election challengers look through the windows of the central counting board in Detroit as police keep additional challengers from entering due to overcrowding on Nov. 4. (Carlos Osorio / AP)
Vehicles line up at a drive-thru Covid-19 testing site in the parking lot of Miller Park in Milwaukee on Nov. 5. (Bing Guan / Reuters)
New Yorkers celebrate Joe Biden’s election victory in Times Square on Nov. 7. (Amy Lombard / for NBC News)

Joe Biden became president-elect four days after Election Day, sparking impromptu street celebrations around the country.

President-elect Joe Biden gestures to the crowd after delivering remarks in Wilmington, Del, on Nov. 7. (Angela Weiss / AFP – Getty Images)
A flooded street in El Progreso, Honduras on Nov. 18, after the passage of Hurricane Iota. (AFP – Getty Images)

Back-to-back Hurricanes Eta and Iota internally displaced more than half a million people in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, according to International Organization for Migration data. 


Margaret Keenan, 90, is applauded by staff as she returns to her ward after becoming the first person in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine at University Hospital in Coventry on Dec. 8. (Jacob King / Pool via Getty Images)

In approving and delivering the vaccine, Britain forged a path to be followed by the United States and Europe in the coming weeks. More than 50 hospitals across England were designated as Covid-19 vaccine hubs, the first stage of what will be a lengthy vaccination campaign.

A humpback whale surfaces near the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor on Dec. 8. (Bjoern Kils / New York Media Boat via Reuters)

For hours, the whale surfaced every minute or so for a breath, making its way past New York’s shoreline with sights like the Empire State building in the background. 

NBC News

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