(Editor’s note: Towards the end of December, news organizations across the world annually publish lists of the top stories from each year. Let’s face it, COVID-19 is going to be the top story on pretty much every top 10 list everywhere. Given that 2020 is a year unlike any others, the staff of the News Journal has decided to do a top 10 list unlike any other.
In the Dec. 30 edition of the News Journal this week, we are publishing a list of the top COVID-19 stories of 2020. In the Jan. 6, edition we will be publishing a second top 10 list, which will be of all the other top news from 2020 that isn’t COVID-19 related. Believe it or not, there was actually quite a bit of it.)
COVID-19 has dominated nearly every aspect of our lives during 2020.
Masks were either everywhere, as people tried to prevent the spread of the worldwide pandemic, or nowhere, as others insisted instead that they had the right not to wear a mask and no one could make them.
Businesses, restaurants and bars shutdown giving a whole new meaning to the term “carryout dining” in many cases.
At first, we couldn’t find hand sanitizer, and then it was everywhere.
In the spring there were toilet paper shortages as people horded it up.
Throughout the year Clorox and Lysol products alternated between impossible to find and nearly impossible to find.
Join us as we look back on the top 10 COVID-19 related stories of 2020.
1) In-person classes cancelled
Few things have been impacted by COVID-19 during 2020 as much as public schools have. Most first closed to in-person classes in mid-March, and still haven’t returned to regular in-person instruction.
Most school districts had a matter of hours to put together packets of information for students for what was initially expected to be a two-week virtual instruction period.
This soon led to the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, which left educators grappling with how to get additional instructional material to students learning from home, especially those without reliable Internet service at homes.
The switch to remote learning also left school districts grabbling with how to get meals to students, who are food challenged, with some districts initially delivering meals via school buses or offering carryout meals.
When May rolled around, school districts grappled with whether to hold in-person graduation ceremonies because of the virus. Many districts instead opted for virtual graduation ceremonies with students entering the schools in small groups and going up on stage to receive their diplomas with cameras rolling.
Some school districts offered smaller in-person ceremonies with graduates only allowed to invite two parents with the intention of offering larger in-person ceremonies in the fall falsely assuming the virus would be largely behind us.
Community members and school districts pitched in to make graduations as special as possible for seniors. Throughout many towns, senior pictures and names were put onto signs placed in prominent places throughout the community, such as entrances to downtown Corbin and in front of Williamsburg Independent Schools.
School also organized celebration parades for seniors, who rode in parades through towns or near their schools while community members lined the streets holding up signs and yelling encouragement.
Teachers spent a large chunk of their summer re-learning how to teach students virtually instead of in-person.
Debate continued over the summer about whether to return to in-person classes with many school districts planning for a return to in-person classes starting in late August, which was then pushed back too early to mid-September and then delayed for longer and longer periods up through the end of the calendar year.
School districts got creative by providing many students, who lacked home Internet services, with “hot spot” cellular network access so they could access the Internet and better do remote learning.
Suffice it to say that several parents weren’t happy with the decision to continue virtual learning. During a mid-November Corbin Independent Board of Education meeting, some parents spoke out demanding a return to in-person classes now.
The question of when to return to in-person instruction in 2021 is one that school districts and state officials are continuing to grapple with.
2) Restaurant/bar closures
Few businesses were hit harder financially during 2020 than restaurants and bars, which three times during the year received orders from Frankfort to shut down in-person dining with the first shut down starting in March, another in July and the final shut down in late November and early December.
In mid-March, the Corbin City Commission among other municipalities voted to allow restaurants and bars to keep the liquor license proceeds they collected for a few months in order to help offset the costs of being closed.
Restaurants also got creative expanding carry-out services, and offering curbside pick-up. Many also offered outdoor dining, which in some cases moved into a tent after cold weather struck.
Although restaurants and bars were allowed to have in-person dining for much of the year, these businesses usually faced significant capacity restrictions, which led to several businesses struggling and taking to social media to complain about the restrictions, such as Austin City in mid-August.
3) Local ministers get creative
So, what is a minister to do when the governor first orders churches not to meet in-person and then tries to greatly discourage in-person services in order to prevent large gatherings of people and the potential spread of the virus.
They get a creative.
Many turned to technology, like Immanuel Baptist Church, which utilized Facebook Live, or Williamsburg’s Main Street Baptist Church, which used another online forum.
Other churches instead choose to go with what became known as “drive-in” or “drive-thru” church.
These churches had congregants come to the church in their vehicles, and stay in their vehicles during services with the ministers at places like Faith Baptist Church standing outside under awning delivering the word via large speakers, or Poplar Grove Baptist Church’s pastor delivering his sermon from inside the church and broadcasting it outside using a short range FM transmitter.
While services being delivered through Internet platforms or via drive-in were popular early on during the first few months of the pandemic, many local churches later decided to switch back to in-person services, which in some cases lead to large outbreaks of the virus among congregants.
4) Baptist Health Corbin among first to get vaccine
On Dec. 15, Baptist Health Corbin was one of the first 11 hospitals in Kentucky to receive initial doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
“We know the vaccine is vitally important to getting back to normal, and we are thankful to be a part of this effort to eradicate COVID-19,” said Anthony Powers, President of Baptist Health Corbin. “We stand ready to play a key role in this crucial initiative as we begin vaccinating our front-line health workers and our community as more supplies of vaccine become available over the next several months.”
On Dec. 16, the hospital began large scale immunizations of its employees with the 975 doses of the vaccine it had received to help protect most of its 1,174 employees.
5) Nursing home and hospital visitation changes
2021 wasn’t a good year to be a patient in the hospital or at a long term care facility, such as nursing homes.
In early March, several local long term care facilities suspended visitation.
Baptist Health Corbin started implementing strict visitor restrictions starting in mid-April due to the pandemic.
There were times that neither type of facility allowed any in-person visitation although those restrictions for hospitals in particular loosened up to some degree as the year progressed.
Long term care facilities in particular were forced to get creative with visitation options for residents.
Initially, these places utilized the Internet to help residents stay in touch with family members and friends.
By July, many had started to get creative, such as Corbin Health and Rehabilitation’s use of visitor walls and pods. These were made of clear plastic so residents could see friends and family members in-person, but not be exposed to their germs.
6) Healthcare providers get support
At the start of the pandemic in March, workers at Kentucky hospitals, long term care facilities, and other healthcare providers quickly became the heroes of the pandemic receiving a lot of love from the public.
Individuals and businesses donated what personal protective equipment that they could.
In mid-April several local restaurants, businesses and organizations delivered free meals to Baptist Health Corbin hospital workers, healthcare workers, and other first responders.
Several wave parades were also held at Baptist Health Corbin as health workers took a break for a few minutes, went outside, and saw groups of people driving by waving, showing signs of support and shouting messages of encouragement.
7) Festivals cancelled
COVID-19 caused a bunch of stuff to be cancelled during 2020, and local fairs and festivals were at the top of that list.
Both Williamsburg and Corbin opted to cancel Fourth of July celebrations and fireworks displays, although Barbourville and London carried on with modified celebrations.
NIBROC officials held out hope for a few weeks over the summer that somehow, they could find a way of holding their annual festival before canceling it in late June about six weeks before it was scheduled to take place.
Whitley County Fair organizers also cancelled their event, which typically takes places in July.
Old Fashioned Trading Days in Williamsburg cancelled its annual September festival as did Corbin’s annual Eggfest event.
8) Holiday events cancelled or altered
As the lyrics to the old song go, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” but in Williamsburg this year that was not so much the case as several holiday-related events were cancelled due to COVID-19. The virus also caused several events in Corbin to be modified or cancelled too.
In Williamsburg, the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot was cancelled in addition to the Williamsburg Police Department’s Shop with a Cop event, the town’s annual Christmas bazaar and the town Christmas parade.
Instead of a traditional Christmas parade, Corbin Tourism officials got creative in December and held a reverse Christmas parade where the floats parked on Main Street, and parade watchers drove down the street in their vehicles along the parade route to see the parade participants.
While the Corbin Police Department couldn’t hold its Shop with a Cop event, or the fundraisers for it in 2020, they got a little creative and used leftover money from past Shop with a Cop events to purchase presents for Operation Save Christmas that delivered toys to over 30 children on Dec. 16.
9) The Arena shows delayed, restarted, delayed again
Officials with The Arena in Corbin probably had a pretty good idea how a yoyo feels by the time 2020 ended.
At the first of the year, Corbin Arena Director Kristina Balla had lots of events lined up for 2020. The Super Bull Professional Bull Riding event on March 13-14 would prove to be the last event held there for quite some time though due to COVID-19.
Officials had hoped to reschedule some of those events in the summer months as many people initially presumed the virus would be behind us by then, but this proved not to be the case.
Social distancing guidelines did start to get more relaxed towards the end of summer though, and after The Arena got creative with some seating, the Classic Rock Experience and Thunderstruck took to the stage on Aug. 20 to wow the socially distanced crowd.
In late September, Travis Tritt performed at The Arena for another well attended and socially distanced show.
Things were looking up with some other socially distanced shows planned in December until another surge of the virus occurred in late November and more COVID-19 restrictions went into place causing an Evening with Chevy Chase and other events to be postponed until 2021.
10) Expanded voting leads to high voter turnout
One of the few positive things to come out of 2020 was increased methods of voting, which led to a higher voter turnout.
The COVID-19 virus pushed back voting in Kentucky’s Primary Election from May to June. As a result, everyone was allowed to do early in-person absentee voting for several weeks leading up to Election Day.
Another change was that the number of in-person voting precincts on Election Day were changed to only two sites with one in Corbin and the other in the Whitley County High School gym.
Most of the same procedures were also used for the November General Election when 55 percent of registered voters in Whitley County cast a ballot.
“To me, it is record breaking!” said Whitley County Clerk Carolyn Willis, who had predicted a voter turnout of about 40 percent.
Other top COVID-19 stories
There were several other stories or events related to COVID-19 that didn’t make our top 10 lists. Here are a few:
- Public pools remained closed over the summer, but the Kentucky Splash Waterpark did open for business in early July with limited capacity. Although city officials initially worried about the waterpark being overrun by visitors, most days the biggest problem ended up being a lack of visitors.
- Local governments got creative during 2020 in order to be able to hold public meetings and socially distance. Many turned to technology, using the online meeting platform Zoom to hold their meetings so the public could see what was going on. Others utilized Facebook Live. At times, more creativity was needed. The Whitley County Water District met once in-person in its parking lot in order to maintain social distancing. In another case, the Whitley County Board of Health, which oversees the Whitley County Health Department, held one meeting outside when 50 or so people showed up to protest a proposed tax increase.
- Early on in the pandemic masks were hard to come by. Southeast Kentucky Rehabilitation Industries (SEKRI) in Corbin, pitched in starting in late March to manufacture 275,000 masks.
- In early April, Corbin #bearhunt began getting a national and somewhat worldwide following, as local residents and businesses placed stuffed teddybears or pictures of bears in their windows that families could drive by to see as part of virtual scavenger hunts for lack of a better description.
- Northern Contours working in conjunction with the Southern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and city officials in Corbin and Williamsburg established the Pay It Forward Business Support Fund. This provided a total of $35,000 in grants to 20 local businesses that had been impacted by COVID-19.