If you’ve gotten into the habit of shrugging and saying “it’s 2020” every time something odd happens or you hear another bizarre item in the news, join the club.
This has been a year like no other -- and one topic has dominated the headlines more than any other (except maybe the election).
The COVID-19 pandemic.
Health, finances, education, politics, sports -- there’s hardly an area of our lives that hasn’t been upended in some way by the novel coronavirus.
As we look back over the strangeness of 2020, we’ve compiled some of the biggest coronavirus-related stories of the year. It’s not a comprehensive list, but we’ve highlighted some of the key moments related to the pandemic. If you think we missed one, let us know in the comments below.
Nine months to the day after the first coronavirus infections were diagnosed in Florida, the state became the third in the nation to surpass 1 million cases.
As of Dec. 23, Florida has reported 1,234,399 total cases of COVID-19 and 21,173 deaths, and Georgia has reported 524,055 confirmed cases with 9,554 deaths.
News4Jax has been tracking the climbing cases in both states throughout the pandemic, trying to bring some context to the case numbers and the reported deaths. That became particularly important in September when a massive dump of backlogged data from Quest Diagnostics artificially gave Florida a huge spike in cases. The state cut ties with Quest after the “unacceptable dump of test results.”
According to data from the Associated Press, 1 in 5 prisoners in the U.S. has been infected with COVID-19. In Florida, nearly 200 inmate deaths have been connected to the virus. Locally, outbreaks in the Clay County jail, Duval County jail, Baker Correctional and Columbia Correctional made headlines over the last several months. And former congresswoman Corrine Brown was released from prison in April after making a case that her underlying health conditions put her at high risk. She’s now awaiting a hearing on her conviction appeal.
After calls from advocates, including Jacksonville’s own Mary Daniel, to reopen nursing homes to visitors, Florida began allowing limited visitation in September -- five months after the state all but shut them down. Daniel made national headlines after she took a job as a dishwasher at her husband’s memory care facility and then became a vocal advocate for long-term care residents and their caregivers.
Nursing home residents and workers will be among the first to get COVID-19 vaccinations as Florida and Georgia roll out their plans to distribute the doses.
The FDA’s approval of widespread use for those two vaccines -- one by Moderna and the other by Pfizer and BioNTech -- has brought a much-needed glimmer of hope as we continue slogging through the effects of the pandemic.
In late July, the nation’s leaders got a sharp reminder of how serious COVID-19 is when former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain died of complications related to coronavirus. He was 74.
Months later, in early October, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump both tested positive for COVID-19, thrusting the world into uncharted territory as the illness landed the president in the hospital. But he was back at the White House just days later and hailed an experimental treatment for his quick recovery.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott was also among many political leaders to test positive for COVID-19, announcing in November that he was in self-quarantine. At least four Jacksonville City Council members also tested positive for the virus this year, and all are doing well.
Vulture.com has a fairly comprehensive list of all the celebrities, athletes and politicians who have come down with the virus. It’s not a short list.
As the virus spread around the country, politicians had to contend with the great mandate debate: to mask or not to mask. To make a long story short: health experts say the answer is to mask, and president-elect Joe Biden is asking for Americans to wear masks for 100 days after he takes office.
Biden was voted into office in November in an election that featured some of the highest voter turnout in decades, record-setting early voting and mail-in voting, and some delayed counting that left the outcome in question for days.
Congress stepped up in March to pass the CARES Act, which delivered $1,2000 stimulus payments to many Americans at the beginning of the pandemic. As the year closed, Congress came through with a second COVID-19 relief bill that includes $600 direct stimulus payments for individuals.
Throughout the year, we struggled to balance home and work life while working from make-shift home offices, but many of us realized we enjoyed the much shorter “commute,” and companies started to rethink the modern workforce.
Office workers might have been able to adjust on the fly, but many other industries weren’t so lucky, including travel, tourism and restaurants. A recent study says recovery for Florida’s tourism industry is at least a year away after theme parks were forced to shut down, beaches temporarily closed and cruises were put on hold this year.
As coronavirus cases surged again at year’s end, Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated his desire to see Florida restaurants remain open. Many eateries in Northeast Florida have continued to limit capacity and require masks as they work to keep patrons and workers healthy while also surviving financially.
Data released in July by the Small Business Administration showed about 14,000 Jacksonville-based companies received federal loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP. But our I-TEAM found that more than 50% of the funding nationally went to just 5% of those who received funding.
As uncertainty reigned in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in Florida, district by district schools began to close their doors, sending students into remote learning. They never came back to class in the spring. (DeSantis later said that decision was a mistake.)
The closures left the state’s parents and students wondering what the fall would look like.
News4Jax launched our Facing the Fall section to help make sense of all the information, which varied by district.
We kept track of just how much our local districts were spending to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols so they could open their doors. Those protocols included major changes inside classrooms, school buildings and on buses, where social distancing was prioritized and many districts opted for an in-school mask mandate.
Eventually, all schools complied with the state mandate to reopen their doors and offer parents the choice between in-person and online learning for their children.
During the fall, case spikes forced some schools, including Fletcher High and Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Duval County, to temporarily send students to online learning until the outbreaks were under control. With parents wondering what the next semester would hold, DeSantis announced that schools will remain open in the spring but online learning will still be an option for parents who want it.
Higher education also faced hurdles with students forced into remote learning.
The 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo were postponed to 2021, and pretty much every professional and college sports season will have an asterisk in the record books for 2020 after the pandemic forced most teams to adjust their schedules and alter their protocols.
Those schedule adjustments gave us an unprecedented convergence of seasons: for the first time ever, the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, MLS and WNBA all had games scheduled on the same day -- Sept. 10, 2020.
In the spring, the Kentucky Derby postponed its traditional May race to September, golf’s Masters Tournament was moved to November, The Players Championship was canceled after one round, Major League Baseball delayed its opening day and March Madness was canceled.
The major sports leagues were left to grapple with the decision of whether to create a “bubble” for teams to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as they resumed play. Decisions and results were mixed. Many players still came down with the virus, exposing teammates and forcing leagues to adjust schedules mid-season.
If we learned anything this year it’s that a pandemic can bring out the worst -- we’re looking at you toilet paper hoarders -- and the best in our communities.
We’d like to focus on the latter to end this year-in-review recap on a hopeful note.
When the pandemic first hit the U.S., hospitals quickly faced a shortage of much-needed personal protective equipment for frontline workers. But businesses and nonprofits across the country -- and in our own backyard -- stepped up to fill the gap and shifted their production efforts to make face shields, masks, ventilators and hand sanitizer.
When we started to go stir crazy, we saw heartfelt messages pop up all over -- from chalk on sidewalks and driveways to social media posts offering help with grocery delivery.
And when families were separated by social distancing, we cheered (and teared up) when a local World War II veteran and his wife refused to let the pandemic keep them apart after 72 years of marriage.
If we all echo just a little of their gumption, we might realize we’re stronger than we know.
Good luck in 2021, everyone!