TOP Ten 10 Stories of 2020
Top Ten #1: COVID-19
When it comes to top news topics in 2020, the 800-pound gorilla in the room was COVID-19.
And not because nothing else of note happened this year. During 2020, the Sanpete Messenger coverer stories ranging from the sentencing of a man who had pleaded guilty of domestic violence homicide, to mess ups in two countywide election ballots, to a crisis in our historic sheep industry, just to name a few major stories. But nothing compared to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.
For most of the year, COVID-19 rates in Sanpete County and the other counties in the Central Utah Public Health District (CUPHD) were not as high on as the Wasatch Front. Nevertheless, by year end, nine deaths in the county had been attributed to the virus.
Although most county residents who died from COVID-19 were older, some were active and in relatively healthy shape.
Reed Cox of Manti, 64, and his wife Claire, thought they had a sinus infection in November until Reed got a lot worse, and COVID tests confirmed both were both positive. Reed checked into Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, where he got progressively worse. He went into cardiac arrest and died on Dec. 17.
Claire, who is having lingering effects four months after contracting the virus, said the loss of her husband was a shock because “he was a pretty healthy guy with no preexisting conditions. He hunted and worked in the yard… He always passed every physical for his pilot’s license.”
A few months earlier, Lindsay Wootton lost both her mother, Tracy Larsen of Moroni, and her grandfather, Bert Porter of Mt. Pleasant. Her father, Chad Larsen of Moroni, the Snow College softball coach, recovered from the virus, but not without serious lingering effects.
Both Claire Cox and Wootton said after going through their tragedies, they wished people would take the coronavirus more seriously.
But some clearly viewed public health guidelines set by Gov. Gary Herbert and the local health department to slow the spread of the virus as an infringement on their personal freedom.
In September, hundreds of people, including some organizers from out of area who had assault rifles slung over their shoulders, gathered at Manti City Park to protest mandating of masks, business shutdowns and other directives from the Governor’s Office.
The COVID impact on the local economy was felt in a variety of industries. Businesses had to deal with staffing shortages because of employees being required to quarantine, mandatory closures, a limit on the number of customers as any one time, increased sanitation requirements, and the costs associated with all of the measures.
Federal, state and local coronavirus relief funding helped many businesses, but it didn’t work for everyone.
In 2017, Dirk Correnti of Manti, was named Sanpete County business person of the year based on his success in the restaurant and hospitality industry. But when Dirk’s Farmhouse, the largest restaurant in the county, was forced to the doors in March because of the pandemic, he decided to close the restaurant permanently.
In Mt. Pleasant, El Mexicano, went out of business later in the year, also due to COVID setbacks and expenses.
Gov. Herbert ordered public schools closed at the end of March, leading to students finishing the year via online classwork. Spring sports and activities were canceled outright. Drive-thru ceremonies took the place of the traditional commencement for 2020 high school graduates.
Children staying home from school created complications for families where both parents were working. The North Sanpete and South Sanpete school districts stepped up to provide sack lunches using drive-thru pickup points for kids who ordinarily relied on school lunch for one meal a day.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints suspended all of its meetings and gatherings in March to help stop the spread of the disease.
The impact of the virus was also felt in the loss of jobs. In June, the county was down by 380 jobs compared to the same time the previous year, a 4 percent decline.
“First-time claims for unemployment insurance [in Sanpete] skyrocketed in the early days of the pandemic,” said Lecia Langston, Department of Workforce Service economist.
In the spring, some aspects of community and business life resumed operations. By May, The LDS Church authorized a phased return to its weekly services.
School districts reopened in the fall, including sports and activities, with increased safety practices for students and faculties, including a mask requirement and social distancing. Weekly testing became the standard in athletics and extracurricular activities.
After a heavy increase in coronavirus cases in November, Gov. Herbert put new strategies in place for slowing the spread of the virus, including a statewide mask mandate—bringing mask requirements to Sanpete County for the first time.
The directive spawned a protest outside the Fairview home of Spencer Cox, Sanpete’s own governor-elect and head of Utah’s coronavirus response team. Protestors claimed the directive was unconstitutional and the pandemic was “fake.”
At Cox’s home, the protestors received a different welcome than they may have expected when the Coxes served them cookies and hot chocolate.
“I never dreamed I would have protestors at my home in Fairview,” Cox tweeted after the encounter. “But we don’t get many visitors, so if you make the long drive, the least we can do is serve you cookies and hot chocolate. I am glad I got a chance to tell them I love them even if we don’t agree on masks.”
As of Monday, Sanpete County had reported 2,005 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 0.45 percent (4.5 tenths of 1 percent) of those who contracted COVID-19 had died from it. The United States as a whole has had approximately 323,000 deaths attributed to the virus out of 18.3 million confirmed positive cases—a much higher death rate of 1.71 percent.