LPR Year in review 2020: COVID
There was 365 days of news in 2020, but one story dominated everything: COVID.
As 2020 began, the United States was riding a wave of economic prosperity with high job growth, low unemployment rates, and a record high stock market.
Then in early January a mysterious pneumonia began making people sick in the Wuhan province of China. By February the newly named COVID-19 made its way to Europe, devastating Italy.
As cases began popping up stateside, the U.S. declared a public health emergency on February 3rd. By March 13th President Donald Trump declared a national emergency and issued a travel ban on non-U.S. citizens.
Local officials at the state, county, and city level soon followed.
LISD, which had been on spring break at the time of the President’s announcement, suspended normal school operations through April 3rd. Caldwell County and the City of Lockhart barred gatherings of 50 people or more. The annual Chisolm Trail Roundup, the city’s largest tourist event of the year was canceled on March 30th.
Life has not been the same since, but life did go on. People, businesses and even government adapted to the “new normal.”
LISD decided to forgo all in-person learning for the remainder of the spring semester of 2020, moving all classes online. With only 60 percent of the students reporting adequate internet access, the district had to adapt.
On April 6th LISD Board of Trustees voted to spend nearly a half-million dollars to obtain seven network towers to expand wireless internet access to all district students and staff throughout Caldwell County.
The district built four new towers at Strawn, Fentress, Maxwell, and Uhland, and purchased 500 routers. The move ensured all students could attend classes online, regardless of where they lived, or their family’s income level.
Parents learned to juggle home-schooling and working from home. Student-athletes became creative when it came to getting their workouts in at home.
End-of-year festivities didn’t go on as planned but were modified. Seniors didn’t let their prom outfits go to waste. They got dressed up and took photos at home, which LPR published. To celebrate graduation, the class of 2020 drove around the square in late May as residents cheered them on. An outdoor graduation walk was held in July.
The first three weeks of the fall semester was online, but eventually in-person learning returned to LISD. Sports also returned (although a little late) with reduced capacity crowds.
The district implemented strict cleaning protocol to keep students safe and required everyone to wear a mask at all indoor and outdoor activities. The measures worked. When the district broke for Christmas break on December 17th only 99 students and faculty had confirmed cases for the semester.
When 2020 began the economy was booming and Lockhart had emerged as a player in the newly minted Innovation Corridor. But when Governor Greg Abbott issued shutdown orders the third week of mark, business came to a screeching halt.
Restaurants were relegated to take-out only, grocery stores limited customers, and bars and retail stores were forced to temporality shut down completely.
Reopening was gradual, starting in late April with 25 percent capacity for certain types of businesses. By early June bars were able to reopen with limited capacity but shut down again a month later after the number of cases spiked.
The CARES Act on the federal level offered some help to businesses in the form of loans. Both the county and the city created grants to aid local businesses in May.
As cases have ebbed and flowed all year, so have the restrictions on businesses, making it difficult to find an operational rhythm.
Moving quickly and adapting to fluid situations is not government’s strong suit. But when COVID hit in March, local officials found themselves needing to act quickly to keep residents safe from the virus.
Caldwell County opened their first drive-through testing site in mid-April and have continued to offer free testing in the county off and on since then.
Government business at both the city and county level continued to be carried out during the pandemic. Meetings continued to be conducted in person, but with limited staff and social distancing required.
The Courthouse was shut to the public in early July after a COVID breakout in the building. But otherwise, the levers of government have continued to turn.
Parades and festivals have been a feature of downtown Lockhart for decades. The local economy thrives on it, and it’s a way for the community to come together.
But with social distancing guidelines in place since March, all major events were canceled. As the year waned on, instead of canceling, organizers got creative.
The annual Dickens Parade went from a shoulder-to-shoulder parade with the floats moving down the street to stationary floats with the people driving past in their cars. The activities usually held in the library and around the square moved online to keep everyone safe.
The Lockhart High School Roaring Lion Band and Color Guard refused to cancel their Winter Concert, opting to partner with the A/V students and film it instead. The video, posted to YouTube, is reaching a global audience.