Two people were killed when a single-engine Cessna 177 Cardinal airplane crashed at the Whidbey Airpark near Langley in November. File photo by Island County Sheriff’s Office

Two people were killed when a single-engine Cessna 177 Cardinal airplane crashed at the Whidbey Airpark near Langley in November. File photo by Island County Sheriff’s Office

2020: The year a pandemic changed our community

Here’s a look back on the year.

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting life on earth in a myriad of extraordinary ways in 2020, coverage of the coronavirus has dominated the pages of newspapers.

Like just about every other business in the nation, newspapers have been hit hard economically by the pandemic and hamstrung in other ways. The South Whidbey Record and the Whidbey News-Times were combined into one for the first time. The newspaper staff and the staff hours were drastically cut. Reporters who are used to finding stories by being out in the community had to work from home.

The newspaper was able to adjust because the community did. Local government learned how to conduct business online. Businesses innovated. Events were cancelled or moved online. Many members of the community communicated and reached out to each other through social media.

The Record published a multitude of feature stories describing how different individuals and groups reached out and helped each other cope with financial challenges, as well as the loneliness and isolation, wrought by the virus.

Still, the news related and unrelated to COVID-19 continued. Here’s a look at a year like no other:

January

Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, an advocacy group in Central Whidbey, announces plans to file a motion for a preliminary injunction against the Navy in an attempt to restrict EA-18G Growler flights at Outlying Field Coupeville.

An Anacortes man is accused of hitting power poles, disrupting cell phone and internet service on Whidbey Island and knocking out power in parts of Skagit County.

An inmate at Clallam Bay Corrections Center sues Island County over a fall he blamed on a missing shower mat in Island County Jail in 2017.

Clinton resident Suzanne Woodard announces that she would be challenging Rep. Norma Smith, an incumbent at the time, for her seat in the state House of Representatives. Woodard, a first-time political candidate, would go on to lose to Democrat Angie Homola and Republican Greg Gilday in the primary election.

WhidbeyHealth CEO Ron Telles announces that 2020 will be the “year of action.” The public hospital district’s main goals are to improve its reputation, increase patient satisfaction and improve the financial situation.

February

A long-awaited crosswalk construction project in downtown Langley is finally approved to begin its final phase. It had previously been delayed by the holidays and a snowstorm in January.

Island County commissioners hire Jessica Carpenter, who had been working as the new county planning director. She resigns later in the year.

A man is accused of stealing a pickup truck from the Bayview Park and Ride, but he didn’t get very far. An Island County deputy found it parked at a Clinton gas station.

James L. Mathis, a man guilty of harassing a South Whidbey woman through social media, among other things, is sentenced to jail for 10 months. The victim, Mathis’ ex-girlfriend, said he had violated a no-contact order by sending her messages online.

The Whidbey Environmental Action Network, known as WEAN, leads the opposition to proposed Navy training in state parks.

A broken water main line causes a small landslide in Clinton near the Scatchet Head neighborhood.

The first story related to COVID-19 appears on the front page of the Record on Feb. 15.

Island County Public Health Director Keith Higman announces that one county resident had possible contact with the coronavirus and was voluntarily isolated for a few days. The risk of getting the virus was low in the county.

A deputy is able to return a truck, stolen by an alleged thief, after a short chase that was partly conducted in reverse near Goss Lake.

A Bellingham man is seriously injured in a single car accident on Cultus Bay Road. His car left the roadway and hit a tree. A 4-year-old passenger sustained minor injuries.

Langley City Council takes its first steps in approving an ordinance that would ban fireworks within city limits. Many citizens voice support for the ban. The ordinance later passed.

A South Whidbey woman is arrested for allegedly stealing a handgun from the residence of a Freeland man. A deputy searched the suspect and found the gun hidden under her bra.

South Whidbey School Board Member Damian Greene announces his plans to run for Island County commissioner. He was one of the two candidates that won the primary election but lost to Melanie Bacon in the general election.

March

County health officials say that the risk of coronavirus remains low on Whidbey Island, despite increased cases on the mainland.

WhidbeyHealth announces the opening of a walk-in clinic in Clinton.

Despite no COVID-19 cases on Whidbey by March 7, toilet paper disappears from grocery stores and county commissioners declare a state of emergency, which allows emergency use of local resources and allows emergency spending.

State Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, announces she wouldn’t be seeking another term.

Island County Superior Court Alan Hancock announces he won’t seek reelection. Vickie Churchill, the other superior court judge, had earlier announced she won’t run again.

By March 11, South Whidbey events begin to get cancelled due to concerns about the coronavirus.

By March 14, Island County Public Health announces that three Island County residents had tested positive for COVID-19. Gov. Jay Inslee closed schools until April 24, but the closure is later extended and students never return to classes before summer.

Low-risk inmates are released from Island County Jail in response to the virus. WhidbeyHealth offers drive-up COVID testing.

The first recorded death from COVID-19 in Island County is reported March 21.

Island Public Health announces that two residents of Careage of Whidbey, a long-term care facility in Coupeville, test positive for COVID-19. Three days later, test results show that 32 residents and staff members were positive.

Whidbey Community Foundation sets up a Community Resiliency Fund to help other charities respond to the virus.

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, is able to get real-time noise monitoring of Navy Growlers on Whidbey, which many leaders and community members have asked for.

Ferry ridership begins to dip significantly. During most of the following summer, the Clinton-Mukilteo route would go on to operate with only one boat in service, to the frustration of many South Whidbey residents and day-trippers alike.

April

An epidemiology study shows that new COVID-19 cases in the county were leveling off. Later in the month, the county reports an increase in cases as testing expands. Island County Public Health announces random testing.

WhidbeyHealth receives federal assistance to keep the hospital open despite financial fallout from the pandemic. The hospital district lost revenues after closing clinics and restricting surgeries and other outpatient services.

Langley City Council votes to defer late fees for utility payments for the first time this year. The council would go on to vote to extend the deferment as the pandemic and citizens’ financial hardships continued.

Island County commissioners call on the Economic Development Council and the chambers of commerce to do more to help local businesses.

May

The mayor of Langley issues an emergency proclamation requiring face masks to be worn downtown within the city’s business corridor.

A spike in ridership on the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry route causes concern.

WhidbeyHealth resumes elective surgeries.

Island County commissioners ask the governor for a special variance to allow some small businesses to get back to work immediately instead of waiting for the next phase of the state’s reopening plan. Later in the month, Island County became one of seven counties in the state to enter Phase II of the plan, which allowed restaurants, retail stores and some other businesses to open with restrictions.

Langley businesses get the green light to expand outdoors in designated areas.

The Village by the Sea sees a small spike in crime related to theft, vehicle prowls and burglaries.

About 30 county employees were victims of a Nigerian scam to steal unemployment benefits.

June

A Bayview Road business receives backlash from customers after a blog post on its website took a stand against racism, bigotry and MAGA hats. The post was later removed and the store owner said any headwear is welcome, as long as masks are also worn.

By June 13, Langley City Council starts talking about racial injustice and defunding the police. With the use of video conferencing, more people than ever before start attending council meetings online, and from all over Whidbey.

High school graduations are held in COVID-safe manners.

Langley City Council unanimously bans the city’s police force from using the carotid hold and introduces a resolution committed to dismantling systemic racism. A new committee with ethnically diverse members is later formed as part of the resolution.

The state announces that Island County was in Phase III of the reopening plan, which allowed more businesses to open and eased restrictions on others.

July

Public Health officials announce an uptick in COVID-19 cases but says it’s not a cause for concern as numbers are lower than other places.

A former South Whidbey man who was featured on the reality TV show “Super Nanny” is charged with robbing a Freeland bank in 2010, just a few weeks before the show was filmed on Whidbey.

South Whidbey resident Taylor Daniels, 17, was killed and 19-year-old Nevin Daniels was injured in a two-vehicle crash on Highway 525 near Freeland.

August

A bicyclist from Seattle pedaling on the shoulder of Highway 525 near Freeland is seriously injured when a car struck him.

In the primary election, Democrat Melanie Bacon and Republican Damian Greene get enough votes to move to the general election among the field of six candidates for Island County commissioner in District 1. In District 2, incumbent commissioner Jill Johnson and challenger Dan Evans, both Republicans, get the most votes among four candidates.

In the District 10 state representative, position 1 race — which had five candidates — Democrat Angie Homola and Republican Greg Gilday move forward to the general election. In position 2, Dave Paul and Bill Bruch win.

Whidbey Island Waldorf School announces it will suspend all programming for grades 1-8 for the school year and instead focus on its preschool and kindergarten classes, as a result of the coronavirus.

A common dolphin, rare in Puget Sound, is spotted and photographed by boaters in Penn Cove.

A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Navy was settled. The Navy finally produced documents that had been withheld and paid the group, Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, $17,500.

Langley City Council votes to direct funds towards its new resolution dismantling systemic racism, which would include the funding of educational workshops.

A homeless man settles a lawsuit against the county for $90,000. He said a former lieutenant with the sheriff’s office repeatedly slammed his leg in the door during a 2019 incident.

Ann Johnson is appointed to the South Whidbey School Board, filling a vacancy left by Julie Hadden.

September

A former OB/GYN at WhidbeyHealth Medical Center filed a lawsuit against the hospital district, claiming gender and racial discrimination.

South Whidbey residents call for the removal of a Black Lives Matter banner on the fence of the South Whidbey High School’s tennis courts. Superintendent Jo Moccia responded that expressing support for the movement is neither partisan nor political, according to the Federal Office of Special Counsel.

James Praefke, a former sailor at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, was back in the news after 15 years on the run after escaping from the brig at Navy Base Kitsap Bangor. He has been on the NCIS “most wanted” list longer than anyone. This year, NCIS alerted police in South Florida to be on the lookout for Praefke, who was convicted of stealing and mishandling explosives, but he wasn’t found.

Wildfires on the West Coast blur the skies with smoke and deteriorate air quality, causing widespread advisories urging people to stay indoors.

Langley City Council debates on what defunding the police means. A few weeks later, Mayor Tim Callison tells the council that one of Langley’s three police officers will be leaving the force, in part because he does not feel supported by the council.

October

Several Republican and conservative events on Whidbey flout state restrictions on gatherings.

Langley’s utility rates increased again, in order to fund public works capital improvement projects not covered by the voter-approved $4 million bond or the contingent $3 million grant from the county.

The Village by the Sea sees an increase in off-island passport seekers due to a shortage of appointments on the mainland.

A kindergartener at Coupeville Elementary School tests positive for COVID-19, the first time the Record reported on a case within an Island County school. Since then, there have been a handful of other cases within schools but no large outbreaks.

A South Whidbey water system tests positive for E. coli bacteria. The issue was resolved about a week later.

An art piece is snatched from a Freeland sculpture garden. The sculpture, titled “The Voice of God,” has not yet had its second coming since the theft happened.

At least 16 Whidbey businesses were listed in an article about permanent closures amid the pandemic, although the total would continue to rise. A surprising amount of new businesses also opened.

November

The Stepping Up Initiative named Island County as one of 23 “Innovator Counties” in the nation for its effort in assessing and assisting people with mental illness in the county jail.

Incumbent Jill Johnson, a Republican, and Democrat Melanie Bacon win positions on the Island County Board of Commissioners in the general election. Carolyn Cliff wins the race for a superior court judge seat.

State Sen. Ron Muzzall, a Republican, and Republican Greg Gilday, a candidate for state representative, are behind on election night but go on to win the race in subsequent vote counts. Rep. Dave Paul, a Democrat, also wins.

South Whidbey Fire/EMS wins a levy increase to purchase updated equipment and hire additional personnel.

Two people die after a small aircraft loses engine power and crashes near the Whidbey Airpark near Langley.

An Oak Harbor woman is accused of stabbing Ryan Crumal to death during an all-island power outage caused by high winds. Ilene Erwin was held on $500,000 bail and later charged with murder in the second degree.

The Langley City Council heard differing opinions on updating the city’s smart meters. One citizen voiced staunch opposition to the meters, claiming they are susceptible to hacking and carry “dirty electricity.” A council member responded that the citizen’s arguments reeked of “bad science.”

An outbreak of COVID-19 cases was investigated at Regency on Whidbey, a long-term care facility in Oak Harbor.

December

New cases of COVID-19 spike on Whidbey with 207 new cases and six deaths recorded in three weeks.

The Langley City Council is critical of the 18-hour closure of the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry route in preparation for the opening of the new Mukilteo ferry terminal.

Another vacancy on the South Whidbey School Board, the second this year, is filled by Marnie Jackson. She will be replacing Charles Currier, who is stepping down from the position.

A new study finds that Growler noise goes deeper underwater than previously assumed, potentially affecting marine mammals.

Dr. Nick Perera, chief of staff and Emergency Department manager at WhidbeyHealth, is the first person on Whidbey Island to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

The state temporarily takes over COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing from Island County after most of the public health nurses on staff quit, along with the community and family health director and the county’s health officer.

The Langley City Council passes a resolution in opposition to the Navy’s use of state parks for training.

Arya Bochantin, left, irons a pattern while Rio Goette, right, cuts out fabric in January that was sewn into pouches for Australian wildlife suffering from wildfires. File photo by Kira Erickson

Arya Bochantin, left, irons a pattern while Rio Goette, right, cuts out fabric in January that was sewn into pouches for Australian wildlife suffering from wildfires. File photo by Kira Erickson

Micky Lacewell gears up to aim some treats down a remote candy delivery system to her granddaughters. Her husband, Kirk Lacewell, built the candy chute on the porch of their Langley home as a way to hand out treats from a safe distance on Halloween night. File photo by Kira Erickson

Micky Lacewell gears up to aim some treats down a remote candy delivery system to her granddaughters. Her husband, Kirk Lacewell, built the candy chute on the porch of their Langley home as a way to hand out treats from a safe distance on Halloween night. File photo by Kira Erickson

Volunteers of church soup kitchens found themselves adapting to the pandemic. Here, in March, Coordinator Jean Matheny exchanges soup with Rick Klein, a former longtime volunteer in the Island Church soup kitchen. File photo by Kira Erickson

Volunteers of church soup kitchens found themselves adapting to the pandemic. Here, in March, Coordinator Jean Matheny exchanges soup with Rick Klein, a former longtime volunteer in the Island Church soup kitchen. File photo by Kira Erickson

Salutatorian Ellie Dubendorf rides in the back of her family’s car during the South Whidbey graduation parade on Saturday. Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group

Salutatorian Ellie Dubendorf rides in the back of her family’s car during the South Whidbey graduation parade on Saturday. Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group

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