The worst year in recent history is finally over. If 2016 was a “dumpster fire,” 2020 was a landfill explosion. These 366 days have at once felt like an eternity and a flash. The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, hit the U.S. hard in March and hit harder as the months trickled by, becoming a full-blown pandemic. With a reported 1.73 million deaths worldwide attributed to COVID (and over 10,000 in Georgia), many have lost loved ones.
The virus took its toll in other ways too, closing shops, bars, restaurants and event venues — some permanently. Government offices and schools began temporary closings and still continue to go in and out of lockdown periodically as outbreaks spread. Many people are out of work and have lost income, while others are working remotely and trying to conduct business while social distancing. While in quarantine, in-person interactions have drastically changed. According to the CDC, during late June, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use.
It’s been a bleak year, and north Fulton cities have not been immune to the same struggles most American cities have faced. Instead of our typical recap of top headlines, this Year in Review is a timeline of some of the ways the coronavirus pandemic shaped 2020 in north Fulton:
On March 2, Gov. Brian Kemp and the Georgia Department of Public Health confirmed Georgia’s first cases of coronavirus — a Fulton County father, who had just returned from a trip to Milan, Italy and his 15 year-old son. Because the child was being homeschooled, Fulton County Schools did not immediately close its schools but did begin a cleaning regimen with products confirmed to kill coronavirus. They also began limiting “non-essential” school activities and travel “out of an abundance of caution.”
Just a week later on March 9, a Fulton County School district employee working at both Bear Creek Middle School in Fairburn and Woodland Middle School in East Point tested positive for the coronavirus. This led to all schools in the district closing from March 13 through the end of the semester. At the same time, Roswell, Alpharetta and Milton began closing their municipal buildings and recreation facilities and canceling in-person meetings due to growing concern over the virus. On March 18, the county declared a state of emergency.
Even before Fulton County issued its April 1 shelter-in-place order and a mandatory curfew in some areas, Roswell Mayor Lori Henry signed an executive order limiting restaurants to takeout, drive-thru and delivery only. In addition to closing on-premises dining areas, Henry’s March executive order closed gyms and fitness centers, movie theaters, live performance venues, bowling alleys, arcades, and private social clubs’ food services and indoor gatherings.
It wasn’t long before annual events all over north Fulton began to get cancelled, one right after the other. Some of the most popular events that didn’t happen this year (or happened digitally) were the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Shamrockin’ for a Cure, Luck of Avalon, Fulton Golden Games, Roswell’s Lavender Festival, Alive in Roswell, Bulloch Hall’s Magnolia Ball, Ameris Bank Amphitheatre’s sold out Alanis Alanis Morissette show (now on the calendar for Aug. 20, 2021), and most recently, Crabapple Fest, which was slated for April 2021.
On April 24, Kemp announced that businesses across the state that had previously been ordered to lockdown could reopen. This included gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians, their respective schools, and massage therapists. Theaters, private social clubs, and restaurant dine-in services were allowed to reopen on April 27, provided they enforced social distancing and followed sanitation mandates. Kemp said his decision was based on “favorable data, enhanced testing, and approval of our healthcare professionals.” However, many businesses and places of worship in the area decided it was safer to stay closed for a while. These included Roswell restaurants Table and Main and From the Earth Brewing and Alpharetta’s Woodhouse Spa, among others.
From mid-to-late May, Roswell, Alpharetta, and Milton leaders began reopening their cities and taking action on pandemic recovery plans, which outlined social distancing and safety guidelines. Municipalities and local businesses began trying to bring back some sense of normalcy in other ways too. Drive-in movies made a comeback over the summer, and drive-in concerts offered some relief to people missing live music. Since dining out and unnecessary shopping are discouraged, Roswell and Alpharetta passed ordinances in the fall months to allow for home delivery of alcohol by authorized retailers.
Fulton County Schools also had a plan for getting back to normal in the form of returning to in-person classes. It started the school year on Aug. 17, a week later than originally planned. Classes continued with online-only instruction until Sept. 8, when it returned to in-person learning in a phased approach.
Since then the district has closed some schools for short periods of time when its students or staff tested positive for the coronavirus. Earlier in December, the district announced all schools would shift to online classes Dec. 16 through 18 as it closed out the fall semester, with plans to conduct only virtual learning during the first week in January before returning to in-person classes in phases starting Jan. 11.
Despite all the safety regulations that have been recommended over the past nine months, thousands of new cases of COVID-19 continue to be reported each day in the state. On Dec. 11 the FDA approved a vaccine, which was distributed in the U.S. two days later. Fulton County managed to secure 2,000 of the first doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, which were reserved for front-line workers and employees and residents of a long-term care facility. Georgia’s state of emergency status has been extended through Jan. 8.