2020 wraps up on a hopeful note

The year of a global pandemic came to an end with the approval of a COVID-19 vaccine, but cases continue to increase locally and across the nation. Health experts warn the next month could be the deadliest yet.

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December 31, 2020 - 10:13 AM

Tiffany Koehn checks in to vote early Tuesday morning. She is assisted by Lori Moran. An estimated 40 people were waiting for polls to open at 7 a.m. Registered voters have until 7 p.m. to cast their ballot. Photo by Tim Stauffer / Iola Register

As the summer came to a close, COVID-19 cases were rising in Allen County and across Kansas. 

Students were back in school, with new restrictions. The governor’s mask mandate and protests on race across the nation shattered whatever spirit of cooperation existed at the beginning of the pandemic.

Just reading the highlights has been exhausting. 

But the worst is yet to come. 

COVID-19 would soon claim its first Allen County resident. Families would share life-altering experiences. 

Oh, and there’s also an election ahead.

There are glimmers of hope, too.

School sports and activities mostly have continued with some modifications. Grant funding helped businesses stay afloat and brought huge amounts of food to local pantries and residents. The first vaccine would be administered before the end of the year.

Moran native Molly McEwan recaps her life in China during a pandemic.

Allen County commissioners Jerry Daniels, Bill King and Bruce Symes display a CARES/SPARK funds check in the amount of $192,500. The money was dispersed to local businesses and nonprofits to help with COVID-19 relief.Photo by REGISTER FILE PHOTO / Iola Register

September

On Sept. 1, Allen County’s COVID cases had climbed to 33. By Sept. 10, cases jumped to 43, a 30% increase. By the end of the month, they would nearly double with a total of 82 cases.

News of the county’s first COVID death came later in the month. Details were not released, but social media and family reported Rick Booe, 68 of Humboldt, died Sept. 19.

On Sept. 22, Gov. Laura Kelly expressed alarm at the state’s rapidly worsening numbers: 53,959 cases with 600 deaths.

That same day, the national death toll from the virus topped 200,000 with more than 6.8 million confirmed cases in the U.S. alone.

Once things started to slow down, the Register turned its attention to the individuals and families affected by the pandemic.

Iolan Chuck Platt considers himself somewhat of a social recluse anyway, so he’s adapted rather well to the social distancing restrictions and isolation required by the COVID-19 pandemic. He does miss playing in community bands and orchestras, though.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

Iolan Chuck Platt earned one such feature on Sept. 8. The retired widower considers himself a social recluse, anyway, so he found it easier to adapt to the isolation of staying at home.

But more than that, yard work remains a vital outlet for Platt, 81, who is leery of venturing out because of the coronavirus threat.

“I’m still scared to death of it,” he said. “Call me a nerd, but I really do not want to take any chances.”

An Iola Middle School student tested positive for the virus Sept. 3, the first test of the district’s new protocols designed to limit the spread of virus. It seemed to work. Despite infections here and there, Iola and other local districts were able to limit the spread and didn’t see clusters develop. 

A handful of sporting events would be canceled or rescheduled as athletes were either infected or quarantined. Some games were disrupted because of cases at other schools, which put their teams out of commission.

Marmaton Valley’s football team played only about half of its games, partly because the team didn’t have a lot of players to start with. Colony’s football team made it to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.

Marmaton Valley’s volleyball team made its first state tournament appearance in decades.

Katelyn Rogers tackles remote teaching during the COVID-19 era. She provides online lessons for first- and second-graders in USD 257. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

On Sept. 5, elementary school teacher Katelyn Rogers talked about her role as one of the district’s three online teachers.

“I like teaching and I like technology. This is a lot of fun and we’re adapting. I told my students something I saw on Facebook: ‘We’re building the plane as we fly it.’”

Meanwhile, IHS welcomed five international students, the most ever at one time. Travel restrictions and quarantines meant some of them had to delay the start of the school year.

Need continued to increase as the economic impact grew deeper. 

Hope Unlimited, a domestic violence shelter, struggled with increased need but reduced capacity caused by social distancing guidelines. 

“We’ve been full several times since July,” Dorothy Sparks, the agency’s executive director, 

 said. “Our house is small enough that we have to eat in shifts and spread people around.”

The USDA on Sept. 5 said it would pay for free school meals to all students, regardless of income, until funding runs out.

Thrive announced another round of grant opportunities for local businesses.

Jessica Quinhones and Paige Olson take a break from serving customers at Around the Corner coffee shop.Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

Jessica Quinhones said a grant “is saving us right now” at her coffee shop, Around the Corner. 

Quinhones said that her $7,500 in grant funds “means a couple months more of keeping our doors open,” until business picks up during the holiday season.

More positive news came Sept. 15 when Fort Scott-based Peerless Products announced it would offer a new line of windows built at the former Haldex Brake facility, bringing new jobs to the city.

Mike and Jamie Stodgell, who donated land for the Moran ambulance station, cut the ribbon at the facility’s grand opening ceremony. Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

New ambulance stations opened in Moran and Humboldt.

Thrive asked county commissioners for help setting up a transportation program that would give rides to virtually anyone anywhere. After weeks of debate, a scaled-down version would be approved with the purchase of a 14-passenger vehicle and one full-time position.

The Bowlus Fine Arts Center finally brought a major act back to the stage when Albert Cummings and his band performed Sept. 19. Three performances were cut from the spring season because of the pandemic, but only one could be rescheduled. 

Iolan Allie Utley holds a microphone while Ken McGuffin asks candidates Barbara Bollier and Michelle De La Isla a question Saturday afternoon. Photo by Susan Lynn / Iola Register

October

At times the pandemic seemed never ending. The same might be said for the 2020 election. 

Campaigns entered their final stretch in October, adapting to the strange new era. There were no political forums or glad-handing at fall festivals. Instead, candidates left door hangers, posted social media messages and made phone calls.

Stark political divisions could be seen even in the ways different parties campaigned. Democrats largely avoided in-person events. Some Republicans still knocked on doors and organized events, though scaled-down. 

On Oct. 3, soon after a debate with Joe Biden, President Trump and his wife tested positive for COVID-19. The president was hospitalized and given multiple treatments. He quickly recovered.

On Oct. 6, the county’s COVID cases grew to 97.

The USD 258 Humboldt school board discusses the many challenges brought about by COVID-19. Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

The debate over masks continued as schools struggled to adapt to new requirements. In Humboldt, a parent who is also a teacher shared her frustration with school board members.

“Personally, I don’t know why we’re requiring masks,” she said, and went on to argue that masks and social distancing were creating social-emotional problems, and would ultimately lead to decreased teacher retention.

Allen Community College reported Oct. 15 that it had so far navigated a total of 52 positive coronavirus cases with 29 positive cases at one time, 249 individuals either positive or in isolation, and 197 individuals quarantining, with some having to quarantine more than once.

On Oct. 21, Allen County Regional Hospital began restricting visitors again because of the surge in cases, which were now at 112.

The holiday season came into focus as groups debated how to handle Halloween. The Iola Chamber managed to pull off a scaled-down version of the annual Trunk or Treat event. Many families decided to forgo the traditional door-to-door trick or treating. 

Iola High School’s marching band performs in the Farm City Days parade against the backdrop of a carnival. The annual fall festival carried on with extra precautions for the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

Farm-City Days remained one of the area’s few fall festivals to actually take place.

Billie Collins, who was featured for her efforts to sew face masks earlier in the pandemic, shared the news on Oct. 21 that her husband, Roger, had been hospitalized with COVID-19 for 100 days, since being life flighted July 13. 

On Oct. 28, USD 257 wanted to change its remote learning policy to force students to attend in-person classes if they struggled online. Out of 99 remote learning students in USD 257, about 27 should be back in school, administrators said Monday. About a third of remote learning students haven’t been performing well, they said. There’s no guarantee they would succeed in an in-person environment, Superintendent Stacey Fager said, but having them in a classroom would make it easier for teachers to intervene and help those who are struggling.

November

It’s time to pick a president.

The day before the election, Allen County reported 18% of voters had already cast a ballot through early, in-person voting or advance ballots.

Humboldt citizens cast their ballots at Humboldt’s Methodist Church Tuesday afternoon. Dorcas Romary, an election worker at the church, remarked that turnout has “been heavy. It’s been pretty steady all day.” Photo by Tim Stauffer / Iola Register

And on Nov. 3, the contentious and unprecedented presidential race came to an end in the midst of a pandemic. Who would win? When would we know the results? Was it safe to vote by mail? Was it safe to vote in person? What about fraud? Would another country try to hack our election? If President Trump lost, would he accept the results?

Now, of course, we know the answers. Final results weren’t known for several days because of a record number of mail-in ballots. It gradually became clear that Joe Biden would win enough Electoral College votes to be declared the next president. Except… Trump continued to fight the results, losing dozens of court cases along the way. 

Two runoff elections in Georgia in January will decide control of the Senate.

Locally, David Lee won a seat on the county commission, which is being vacated by Bill King, over Democrat Michelle Meiwes. Kansas results gave big wins to Republicans, including a Senate seat to Roger Marshall instead of Democrat Barbara Bollier. Republican Jake LaTurner won a House seat over Democrat Michelle De La Isla. Incumbent Republicans also kept their state house seats. Rep. Kent Thompson defeated Humboldt Democrat Alana Cloutier, and Sen. Caryn Tyson defeated Humboldt Democrat Mike Bruner.

COVID cases continued to rise in Allen County and Kansas.

TOPEKA — One-fourth of Kansas households experienced serious problems during the COVID-19 pandemic covering essential costs of food, utility and medical bills and dealing with obligations of loans and credit card debt.

Starting Nov. 5, hospitals across the state started reporting a strain on staff and a lack of available beds because of virus cases. The state was averaging 1,000 new cases a day.

On Nov. 7, Humboldt Police Chief Shannon Moore said three of the five-member department had either tested positive for COVID, were otherwise ill or quarantined. 

The county’s cases grew to 175 on Nov. 7.

Dr. Brian Neely implored residents on Nov. 14 to wear a mask, as local cases jumped to 240, an increase of 65 in one week. “If it gets widespread, it could impact our regular services. City departments. Police. Healthcare. In a small town, we could have entire departments wiped out,” Neely said. “We can make a big impact in a small town, either positive or negative. An increase in mask wearing is going to decrease the spread.”

Greystone Assisted Living, with 21 cases, and Allen Community College, with five, were listed as “cluster sites” on the state’s health website Nov. 21.

COVID tests, though, had become much easier to obtain.

On Nov. 11, Marmaton Valley announced junior high and high school students would spend the rest of the month in remote learning, as all districts reported increased cases.

Hannah Gardner, left, and Kailey Schinstock.Courtesy photo

IHS seniors such as Hannah Gardner and Kailey Schinstock talked of the challenges visiting colleges.

“Seniors are at a disadvantage this year,” said Kelsey Johnson, counselor at IHS.

Uncertainty is the word that best describes this year, she said. Seniors may be reluctant to visit a college because of the pandemic, and online Zoom visits do not capture the essence of a physical visit.

On Nov. 28, three members of the Class of 2020 also weighed in on their college experiences, which were very different because of the pandemic.

But just before classes began, (IHS grad Isabella) Duke learned all her classes would be moved online. She hasn’t set foot on the (KU) campus since.

“I was super disappointed. My first thought was, ‘Why am I here?’ because I’m all alone in Lawrence.”

The annual Veterans Day parade was canceled, but the Register profiled two veterans on Nov. 11. Kyle Griffith served in Afghanistan. Bill Brecheisen served 503 days on the front lines during World War II.

December

A year that felt more like a decade finally comes to a close.

National coronavirus guru Dr. Anthony Fauci repeatedly warned the winter months would be the most dangerous for the pandemic.

Indeed, cases surged around the world, including in Allen County.

Chris and Amanda Belknap are shown with their children, from left, Molly, Logan and Ethan. They affectionately refer to themselves as the “CAMEL Family,” using the first letter of each name. The family took many precautions to avoid the virus but still became infected. All appear to be on the road to recovery.Courtesy photo

On Dec. 2, Amanda and Chris Belknap talked about their family’s experience with the virus. Both parents are teachers and were exposed, but they tested negative and had little or no symptoms. Their three children, though, hadn’t been around anyone else but all three became ill.

On Dec. 5, Billie Collins gave an update on her husband, Roger. His long hospitalization forced the family to shutter a 55-year-old business started by his mother, Central Publishing Inc.

Bob and Ginny Hawk at their home in Iola. Ginny’s experience with COVID-19 was barely more than cold-like symptoms. Bob’s has left him with residual infammation of the lungs. Photo by Susan Lynn / Iola Register

Former businessman Bob Hawk talked of the lingering effects of his COVID illness, though his wife, Ginny, also was infected but had very mild symptoms.

Also on Dec. 5, the courthouse began restricting visitors after reports of cases at the Treasurer’s Office. The Iola Public Library closed temporarily Dec. 8 because a staff member became infected.

On Dec. 12, the county’s cases rose to 478. 

On Dec. 19, Linn County’s health director Tisha Coleman talked of the challenges she had faced, both regarding backlash to her efforts to protect the public and the loss of her mother, a former Moran woman.

Nina Lou Thompson Worthington died on Dec. 13, less than three weeks after being admitted to the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Still, there were encouraging signs.

B & B Country Cafe owners Mike and Kim Larios added take-out and delivery options

“Things have changed dramatically from the beginning of this,” Mike said. “It’s hit everybody hard in the restaurant industry. We’ve had to make adjustments.”

Santa Claus meets with a young masked resident from inside his bubble Thursday evening at the courthouse square. He will return Dec. 17 and 19. Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

The Iola Chamber found a way to bring Santa to town, safely, by keeping him in a bubble. Santa stayed safe in a snow globe, where kids could say hi and take pictures without fear of exposure.

Santa also visited local nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Local kids shared their Christmas wish lists, which often included hope for the end of the pandemic.

Susan Knavel’s Christmas light display in LaHarpe.

LaHarpe’s Susan Knavel encouraged drive-by visits through the town to see her whimsical light display.

Finally, on Dec. 14, the first vaccine shipments began. Multiple vaccines had been developed in record time, and the U.S. government fast-tracked the approval process.

The rollout of the Pfizer vaccine, the first to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, ushers in the biggest vaccination effort in U.S. history — one that health officials hope the American public will embrace, even as some have voiced initial ing home residents beginning skepticism or worry. Shots are expected to be given to health care workers and nursing home residents.

Dr. Brian Wolfe receives the first of a two-shot vaccine to guard against COVID-19 Friday morning at Allen County Regional Hosptial. Denise Byrd, RN, administers the shot, while Susan Lewis, RN, completes paperwork. Courtesy photo

On Dec. 16, ACRH announced it had received 45 doses of the vaccine, and was preparing for the first vaccinations for healthcare workers on the front lines.

Susan Lewis, surgery manager at Allen County Regional Hospital, was the first in Allen County to receive the COVID-19 vaccination Thursday morning.

The vaccine rollout may have got off to a quick start, but it quickly slowed. A second vaccine was approved. Health experts said it could be summer before most people have an opportunity to receive the shots.

On Dec. 30, the CDC predicted the country could see 820,000 to 2 million new cases in the next four weeks. 

Fauci called the spread “out of control” and likely to worsen.

On the final day of the year, Allen County had 564 cases and unconfirmed reports of another COVID-related death.

Kansas had 22,433 cases and 2,741 deaths.

The U.S. had 20.2 million cases and more than 350,000 deaths. 

Worldwide, there were 83.2 million cases and 1.8 million deaths.

Recap January through March here.

Recap April through August here.

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