All of us just lived through one of the biggest historial years in the past century.
It’s hard to think about it in that context when you are just trying to get through from day to day, but 2020 will be looked at as a year like few others in history when it comes to societal change and upheaval.
Think about it. When COVID-19 was brewing in China in December of 2019, our “normal” society was living on borrowed time. Nobody had any idea at the 2019 Christmas Dinner that our entire society would change in less than three months. But it did, and we are still feeling the effects of it.
There have been few other events in history that changed everyday life like COVID-19. I can only think of three in the past one hundred years.
One is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. On December 6, the United States was reluctant to enter World War II. On December 8, men were standing in line to enlist in the military and our economy went from peace to war with tanks and airplanes being built instead of cars. Rationing, victory gardens, most families having someone in uniform and many other societal changes came out of that one event.
Another is the stock market crash of October 29, 1929. The great depression that resulted lasted over a decade for some and completely changed the way millions of Americans lived.
Finally, the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic that killed more people than World War I. Like today, masks, distancing and other disruptions were the rule of the day.
Some might suggest that September 11, 2001 belongs on this list. I disagree because other than a spark of temporary patriotism and higher security at airports, there was no real change to how individuals in society went about their lives.
So 2020 is in rare company. It leaves us with a totally changed society than what we had when it arrived.
COVID was the biggest news in Brown County in 2020, but it wasn’t the only news. Let’s use some “2020 hindsight” and take a look back at some of the news and events of the year.
The biggest news of the month were additional charges being filed against Margaret and Charles Breeze in the case of alleged abuse and neglect of an 11 year old girl in their care. The Breezes were both charged with Tampering With Evidence to hinder an investigation into the alleged abuse. They were both charged in November of 2019 with multiple charges, including Kidnapping, Endangering Children and Felonious Assault. The case is expected to go to trial sometime this year.
In other news that month, it was reported in The News Democrat that eight men in Brown County were sentenced in separate child sex offense cases to decades in prison in 2019.
Local villages and school boards also swore in new members that were elected in November of 2019.
The big news in February was the announcement that ‘Chance’ the movie would be opening in local theaters the following April.
The movie was produced by Brown County residents Mike and Pamela Daly and filmed locally, featuring many Brown County residents as extras. It also starred Matthew Modine as Coach Mike. At the time, 40 theaters were planned to show the movie, but COVID-19 would blow that plan out of the water as the entire movie and theater industry was shut down.
In other news, Robert Elmore was named the sixth president of Chatfield College, succeeding John Tafaro.
It was also announced in early February that current Probate/Juvenile Judge Val Lewis would be elevated to the bench in May to replace retiring Judge Danny Bubp.
The Pinnacle drug treatment center also opened in Georgetown in February, giving residents another option to break free from addiction.
In crime news, Hamersville resident Wayne Cusimano was arrested for 29 child sex related charges. He is currently making his way through the federal court system and is expected to face his state charges once that process is complete.
This was the month that COVID-19 changed everything, but as March began that was a few days away.
Ohio Senator Rob Portman visited Georgetown on February 28 to talk about drug addiction, prevention and treatment. He met with local officials at the Brown County Board of Mental Health and Addiction Services to hear opinions and suggestions. It would turn out to be one of the last “normal” gatherings in the county.
A week later, candidates in three Ohio house races gathered in Clermont County for a press conference decrying the “dark money” that was being funneled into their races against them by Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder. Candidates Adam Bird and Nick Owens were part of the gathering because Ohio House District 66, which represents Brown and part of Clermont counties, was one of the targeted races.
The press conference happened on March 6 and was intended to influence voters in the March 17 primary. However at this point, reaction to COVID-19 was beginning to move quickly at the state level and the March 17 primary was cancelled by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.
On March 12, the first mention of COVID-19 appeared in The News Democrat. A press release from the Brown County Health Department stated that it was in contact with the Centers for Disease Control and the Ohio Department of Health and “is closely monitoring the situation and is communicating regularly with local schools, medical treatment facilities and long term health facilities for them to be better prepared.”
The next week, local county offices were closed to the public to help prevent the spread of the virus and visits to the Brown County Jail were suspended. Brown County Emergency Management Director Barb Davis put out a statement asking residents to “Be prepared, don’t panic in the face of the Coronavirus disease.”
Unfortunately, a lot of people didn’t heed that advice.
On March 16, Governor DeWine announced that schools would be closed to prevent the spread of the virus. I was monitoring the situation at that point, but didn’t fully grasp yet how COVID-19 would change my life. That ended when I pulled into the Mt. Orab Kroger parking lot for a couple of items. As I was getting out of the car, a man walked past me and grumbled “good luck.”
When I walked in the door, I understood what he meant.
It was absolute chaos, with panic buying in full swing.
Canned goods, potatoes and yes, toilet paper were all gone, leaving empty shelfs behind. Ditto any processed meat, bread, milk, eggs and anything else that people thought to grab.
At this point, I had no choice but to jump into the fray and compete for resources like everyone else. I thought that if everyone was acting this way, it would take the supply chain a few days to catch up. I ended up with a few extra things, including a ten pound bag of potatoes that I didn’t intend to buy. I referred to them as the “panic potatoes” until my wife got tired of hearing that and we ate them.
Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies and thermometers would continue to be scarce through the rest of the year.
To cap off the month, the Ohio Department of Health was put in charge of enforcing a mandatory “stay at home” order on March 22.
It prohibited “All public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a single household or living unit” except for limited purposes.
Those included going to work, taking care of others and getting supplies, so there was much debate on whether it was actually enforceable or not.
Local nursing homes also shut down in person visitation in March.
In April, Brown County reported its first death from COVID-19. That number is now 14. The Brown County Health Department reported that the man died in the intensive care unit of an area hospital.
In March, Brown County administered 15 tests locally with more submitted from health care providers.
The state reported 2199 total cases on March 31, with 585 in the hospital, 198 in the ICU and 55 deaths.
Those cumulative numbers since March are currently are 656,581 cases, with 39,650 in the hospital, 6022 ICU admissions and 9247 deaths.
The next week, four confirmed cases were reported in Brown County. The current number is 2342 cases.
At this point, there was still no talk of mandatory masking and quarantines, but of course that would come later.
On April 17, Governor DeWine announced that Ohioans had “flattened the curve” and that the state would reopen businesses in phases beginning on May 1. The April 23 News Democrat reported 14 active COVID-19 cases in the county.
Also in April, the first stimulus checks of $1200 per person began arriving in bank accounts and the mail box.
On April 20, DeWine announced that Ohio Schools would remain closed the rest of the year.
And on April 28, the long delayed state primary election was held, with Adam Bird winning a narrow victory over challengers Nick Owens and Householder-backed Allen Freeman.
In May, the Brown County Commissioners met to discuss the potential loss of sales tax revenue to the county because of businesses being closed. There were fears that the loss could approach one million dollars. That did not turn out to be the case because of increased spending at Kroger and other businesses still open, but that did not lessen the concern at the time.
Money from the federally funded CARES act began coming into the county in May, to places like local colleges. On the state level, talk was turning to how to increase testing for the virus and who to test first.
On May 14, the News Democrat reported that nine people were currently recovering at home from COVID-19 and that 26 cases had been reported so far. At the state level, it was announced that dine-in service at restaurants would return on May 21 with seating and capacity restrictions. Many fast food restaurant dining areas are still closed to customers because the stores are unable or unwilling to renovate their dining areas for temporary restrictions.
Talk also turned to graduation and prom plans for local students, with normal routine disrupted. Many districts resorted to virtual or “drive through” events where distance could be maintained.
On May 15, it became possible to get a haircut and other personal services again, with restrictions, including wearing a mask and limiting the number of people inside a business.
What was normally a quick errand had turned into a three hour wait.
On May 19, Governor DeWine lifted the “Safe at Home” order, stating that “we are now moving from orders to strong recommendations.”
The order also brought the first mention of six feet of social distancing while continuing to limit mass gatherings. DeWine also asked that Ohioans wear masks in public.
In non-virus news in May, Brown County Sheriff Gordon Ellis returned home after a year long deployment with the Indiana National Guard to the middle east and Brown County Probate/Juvenile Judge Val Lewis was sworn into office.
In June, COVID-19 disruption began to become the new normal, with continued pleas and cautions from state health officials and Governor DeWine to continue to follow health protocols. Cases continued to rise, but slowly.
In other news, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May, sparked a number of protests nationwide. Under the umbrella of “Black Lives Matter”, small groups appeared at various times in Maysville, Ripley, Aberdeen and Mt. Orab.
A larger protest happened in Bethel that ended up getting national attention for conflict between protesters and counter-protesters.
Another big story from June was the attempted shooting of three Brown County deputies in Russellville by John Spires on June 22.
The deputies were responding to a disturbance call at his home. When they arrived, they reported that Spires came out of his home and began shooting at them with a rifle. The deputies returned fire, injuring Spires in the leg. He was eventually charged with attempted murder and remains in the Brown County Jail as his case moves forward.
In July, it began to look like sales tax revenue to the county would not fall as far as first thought. Officials continued to keep an eye on the numbers.
In virus related news, local school districts got together to discuss a plan for reopening school in the fall that included distancing and other guidelines in an effort to keep the school calendar on track. Meanwhile the USDA began distributing free food to residents that would have otherwise gotten caught up in the supply chain and gone to waste.
In person nursing home visits also resumed in July, giving residents a chance to see loved ones for the first time since March. Masks and distancing was used, of course.
In other news, the Georgetown Village Council approved an ordinance establishing a village charter on July 9. The charter was approved by voters in November.
Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was also arrested on multiple federal charges in July. He was charged with leading a $60 million bribery scheme. Four others were also arrested along with Householder. The investigation into the allegations are continuing.