It has been forever since we have looked forward to a New Year the way we’re looking forward to the upcoming one. We’re exhausted, a little bit scared and, finally, hoping against hope that a COVID-19 vaccine will turn around our fortunes, individual and collective. There is no doubt that the biggest story of 2020 is and was the virus. It found its way into nearly every niche of our daily lives. But a few other things were worth reporting, too.
Last January, we wrote about the darkness the GOP was struggling to escape. The party of low taxes and small government had drifted from its moorings. Stalwart Republicans, columnist George Will, ‘Morning Joe’ host, Joe Scarborough, party strategist Steve Schmidt bolted. In Colorado, former Senate President Pro Tempore Ellen Roberts, too. A big reason, Donald Trump. “I think he was emblematic on how I was in a different place,” she said. A Pew Research poll also showed women, by a 63 percent margin, were falling away. Trump, they said, was “not doing his job.”
In February, La Voz Bilingue became one of the first Colorado publications to report on a little known virus whose shadow was growing. When our story appeared, Coronavirus had claimed only 400 lives worldwide. That would change in the most unimaginable, exponential way. Other things, too.
Politics and the Democratic horserace to see who would face---at the time---a highly favored Donald Trump, were the big non-virus story in March. Super Tuesday winnowed the field. Joe Biden, a lukewarm candidate, emerged big and the hopes and dreams of progressives and Bernie Sanders were shattered. But they begrudgingly climbed aboard the ‘Team Joe’ bus that delivered them to right address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
By April, ‘COVID,’ a word no one had heard of only months before, had planted its flag. So serious a threat to public health, that Governor Jared Polis ordered the state’s first shut down of bars and restaurants and told businesses to trim staffs of all but essential workers. No city in Colorado escaped the damage. “We’re evaluating our budget,” said Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks. Alamosa city employment was frozen. Cities and towns across the state also tightened their belt. The state economy froze.
Education joined business in adapting to COVID. Schools across Colorado cancelled all classes and students went ‘viral.’ Districts jumped in full force to buy computers and iPads for students by the thousands to ‘distance teach.’ Graduating seniors would not toss their caps in the air in 2020. Instead, districts like Pueblo’s, would scramble for a ‘Plan B.’ “It’s going to feel like a traditional ceremony,” said Dalton Sprouse, District 60 spokesman speaking about Pueblo’s commencement plan. The biggest difference? Family and friends would watch from home.
As spring turned to summer, COVID was sending thousands to their deaths, and an awakening conceived in police violence against Black and Brown Americans was gaining momentum. And truth was assaulting legend on scores of American icons whose reality held little valor.
In the South, statues and monuments honoring Confederate icons were officially removed. Many others were physically toppled by mobs or unceremoniously pelted with rocks and paint. In Colorado, Chivington and Pingree, names often associated with military valor were pilloried for their bloodlust and cowardice. Both men led raids that killed women and children at the infamous Sand Creek Massacre.
The spark igniting summer violence against police was girded by a historic and unresolved racism and the death of George Floyd, killed when a Minneapolis cop kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Violent confrontations rocked cities across the country, including Denver. In Colorado, it wasn’t only Floyd’s death that moved mobs but also others, including that of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old man stopped and placed in a chokehold by Aurora cops as he walked to his home. McClain was administered the sedative ketamine by paramedics on orders from police. McClain’s crime? He looked suspicious. Confrontations, often bloody and violent, continued throughout the summer and into the fall.
Also seemingly angry was Mother Nature who continued to withhold much needed moisture to parts of Colorado. The entire southern swath of Colorado, said the National Weather Service, was “in extreme drought.” By the end of July, NWS reported only “two to five inches” of precipitation had fallen. Temperatures were also showing higher than normal increases. Alamosa’s summer heat readings ran five degrees above normal levels.
As the nation wrestled with the scourge of COVID, systemic racism, climate change and more, political history was being made on the Democratic side of the ledger. A bi-racial woman, Senator Kamala Harris, joined the presidential ticket as Joe Biden’s running mate. Colorado’s Latina political icon, Polly Baca, cheered the selection. “Kamala Harris represents all that we’ve been struggling for…the skills she has are being able to work with all political backgrounds and tripes,” said Baca.
The culmination---maybe---of 2020’s presidential politics came to a crashing finale in November when the Biden-Harris ticket defeated the incumbent President. Biden-Harris convincingly won a blue-tinted Colorado and 305 Electoral College votes. The verdict won’t be official until January 6th when Vice President Pence presides over the Senate and officially declares for President Joe Biden. Pence’s boss continues to publicly declare his loss as fake news and Biden’s win as stolen. Stay tuned.
Early in 2020 as COVID grew into a 21st century plague, President Trump downplayed it at every turn. ‘It would go away…like a miracle,’ he said. It didn’t. Early in 2020 as COVID grew into a 21st century plague, President Trump downplayed it at every turn. ‘It would go away…like a miracle,’ he said. It didn’t.
As our year of living dangerously plays out, COVID has killed more than 4,000 in Colorado, more than 330,000 in the U.S. and nearly two million worldwide. But three vaccines have been introduced and, in the U.S., more than a million have already received shots. The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has said that if enough people get vaccinated and follow established health protocols, life may return to something resembling normal by late next summer.
COVID has redefined normal. Normal today is staying home instead of dining out, going to movies, concerts, games, church, even voting. A trip to the mall is now instead a trip to our keyboards, even for medicine. Masks, once discouraged by merchants, are now mandatory. Hand sanitizer travels with us. Plexi-glass to protect us from one another is common today. Meal delivery and take-out is also normal. Normal is also holding both personal and business meetings, weddings, birthdays and religious services virtually via Zoom.
Normal is also seeing darkened storefronts. Restaurants and bars that once buzzed with activity have gone quiet. Scores of landmarks in Denver and beyond are no more, including the famed jazz drop-in El Chapultepec or Racines, the restaurant where business got done. Worse, obituaries are now must-read.
A disease unknown just a year ago has changed our lives. We’re more tolerant but, too often, less so. Public health---wearing masks---is mistaken by too many as a ‘loss of freedom.’
As 2020 leaves, we can only hope that the New Year lives up to the adjective that precedes it this time of year and that ‘happy’ occurs with more frequency in 2021 than the year so many of us would just as soon forget. COVID has changed our lives, redefined normal. But we’ve adapted in good ways…mostly good ways.