Social distancing became a commonly used term, a mask mandate was implemented locally, shops large and small were shuttered in the spring, and there was no Greene County Fair or Greeneville Christmas Parade.
These are just some of the ways that life changed in Greene County due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which dominated almost every aspect of life beginning in March when the first coronavirus case was reported locally and was selected by The Greenville Sun’s news staff as the top local story of 2020.
Other top stories were record-setting precipitation that caused extensive flooding early in the year, the November elections and a fire that claimed the life of one child and forever altered the life of another.
As 2020 began, no one could have foreseen the far-reaching effects of a virus that originated in China.
After COVID-19 reached Tennessee state executive orders during March limited public gatherings to fewer than 10 people and led non-essential businesses to close to in-person shopping and services and restaurants to close dining rooms, with many offering drive-thru or take-out services to stay open.
Schools switched from in-person instruction to online learning. For the fall, school systems offered the choice of online or a hybrid approach with both online and in-person learning.
Sunday and Wednesday services at many churches switched to options such as online streaming on Facebook or “drive-in” services in parking lots.
Virtual meeting platforms, such as Zoom and Webex, became familiar to many governmental officials as public meetings were held remotely.
In late spring, state regulations relaxed and businesses reopened.
However, this reopening brought a tripling of cases in Greene County in late June and early July, leading to a mask mandate for Greene County, requiring people to wear a facial covering in public places.
The pandemic also brought the canceling of many popular community events — the Iris Festival, the Greene County Fair, Christmas in Downtown and the Greeneville Christmas Parade, as others were adapted and scaled down to meet social distancing guidelines.
In the closing months of the year, Greene County saw a steady increase in the rise of new case numbers, and by the end of the year was listed in The New York Times among the metro areas where new cases were increasing the fastest.
As 2020 came to a close, 92 local residents were among the more than 340,000 nationwide to have died from the virus.
A YEAR OF RAIN
Greene County recorded record-setting precipitation in 2020, and heavy rains early in the year caused widespread flooding.
Several rain events during the year were prime contributors to total precipitation, which stood at 60.48 inches as of Dec. 28, well above the average of 42.75 measured at the University of Tennessee Agricultural Research and Education Center on East Allens Bridge Road.
Between Feb. 5 and 11, more than 7 inches of rain fell in Greene County, according to measurements taken there.
Two separate rain events during that time frame covered hundreds of roads in Greene County with water.
More than 150 Greene County roads were damaged during prolonged flooding after the continual rainfall.
Greene County Highway Department crews worked many hours to repair the damaged roadways.
Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 13, more than 12.20 inches of precipitation fell in the Greeneville area, according to the Morristown office of the National Weather Service.
Road flooding prompted several vehicle rescues by the Greeneville Emergency & Rescue Squad and other first responders during the heavy rainfalls of February.
The torrential rains came in the wake of historic flooding in February 2019, damaging many of the same roads near Lick Creek and its tributaries and in other sections of Greene County.
Road repairs continued for weeks, leading into another major rain event happened between April 11-12, when more than 3 inches of rain was recorded in sections of north Greene and other areas of the county.
The heavy rainfall damaged some roads repaired by the Greene County Highway Department after extensive flooding in February. Additional damage caused by flooding and landslides on about 30 roads required more work, county Highway Superintendent Kevin Swatsell said.
A TRAGIC FIRE
Each year brings tragic vehicle accidents and fatalities caused by fire. The year 2020 was no exception.
On May 6, a camper fire killed a 3-year-old boy and severely burned his 3-year-old twin sister.
Charges remain pending against the parents of the children.
Cole Able Elijah Black, 3, died in the fire that quickly swept through the camper at 1435 Woolsey Road.
Bobby Caliber Black, 3, suffered second- and third-degree burns and was airlifted to Johnson City Medical Center and later transferred to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Authorities charged 38-year-old Robert R. Inbody and the mother of the children, 39-year-old Devin Cullum-Black.
An arrest warrant said that Inbody was operating a welder near the 30-foot camper when the fire started. “Due to the welding helmet and the noise of the generator (Inbody) was unable to adequately supervise the child and did not know the camper had caught on fire,” a complaint said.
Both children were left unattended in the camper “for an indeterminate time” and Cole Black “perished in the fire as a direct result of the neglect exhibited by (Inbody),” the complaint said.
A moonshine still was found in a shed near the camper, which was near an unoccupied single-wide trailer on the Woolsey Road property.
Cullum-Black was not present when the fire started. Witnesses said that Inbody got the little girl out of a camper window and handed her to another person before leaving the property on a four-wheeler. Reports filed by a detective allege Cullum-Black assisted Inbody after he fled the fire scene.
Cullum-Black allegedly picked Inbody up at a location in Kingsport and took him to a Greeneville motel. The couple was located May 7 at the Greeneville motel, a report said.
Both have scheduled arraignments Jan. 15 in Greene County Criminal Court.
HIGH ELECTION TURNOUT
With a presidential race on the ballot, the November election brought one of the highest turnouts in recent years as 68% of registered voters in Greene County cast ballots, the highest turnout for a presidential election since 2004.
Locally, Republican candidates in federal races received the most votes in the county.
It was also a good year for incumbents.
Reelected in August were Greene County Property Assessor Chuck Jeffers; county Board of Education members Tommy Cobble and Rick Tipton; Greeneville Mayor W.T. Daniels, Aldermen Tim Teague and Scott Bullington and Board of Education member Cindy Luttrell, and Mosheim Mayor Tommy Gregg and Aldermen James Foshie and Dave Long.
In November, voters returned incumbents Barbara Britton and Alan Corley to the Tusculum Board of Commissioners, and state House of Representative members Jeremy Faison and David Hawk were re-elected.
In the only contested local race, for Baileyton mayor, William “Kenny” Kerr defeated Bobby Stevens. Newcomers Steve Hall and Sherrie Ottinger were elected aldermen for the town with newcomer Crystal Hirschy elected to the Greeneville school board.