ANALYSIS: York County's top stories of 2020
In York County, as around the world, the biggest story of 2020 was the COVID-19 pandemic and the staggering toll it exacted on lives and livelihoods.
Coronavirus: As of Monday, the county had seen 21,837 cases and 374 virus-related deaths, Pennsylvania has recorded 605,141 cases and 15,040 deaths. Those are among the 19.2 million U.S. cases and 330,000-plus U.S. deaths and 80.9 million cases and 1.8 million deaths worldwide.
There’s hardly an aspect of daily life not affected, from how we work, learn and shop, to the masks, social distancing and other steps taken to protect ourselves and others.
On the line are more lives — those that will be lost to COVID-19 and those that could be lost to other illnesses if hospitals are overwhelmed — a very real possibility, health care workers warn.
Most, but certainly not all, understood the stakes and did their part, even if grudgingly, while waiting for a widely available vaccine.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump egged on pandemic deniers and anti-maskers. Throughout the pandemic, the commander-in-chief undermined medical experts and failed to lead during one of our nation’s darkest times.
Election: After nearly four years of erratic leadership that included our nation’s third presidential impeachment, Trump was going to have hard time making a case for a second term even before the pandemic.
The virus and the corresponding economic damage may have sealed his fate in November, when former Vice President Joe Biden won by a margin greater than Trump's 2016 victory, which the president had declared a "landslide" at that time.
Trump, just the 10th U.S. president denied a second term, easily won bright red York County, 146,733 to Biden’s 88,114. But the Democrat won Pennsylvania by 88,660, or 1.2% of the vote. Biden won the Electoral College 306 to 232 and received about 7 million more votes than Trump nationally.
The outgoing president refuses to acknowledge his loss and continues to claim widespread voter fraud existed in in Pennsylvania and other battleground states. The U.S. Supreme Court has found no evidence of fraud and rejected the claims.
Even Christopher Krebs, the Trump-appointed director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, called the 2020 election "the most secure in American history."
Economy: Like some other governors, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered most businesses shut down in March as the virus began to circulate widely in Pennsylvania.
“Essential workers” were allowed to continue clocking in, and those who were able worked from home. Many, however, did not fit into either category and lost their jobs. In April, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate hit a record 16.1% (it has recovered to 6.6% last month).
The hospitality industry was the hardest hit, with sales tax revenue from that sector plummeting by $107.8 million in April, May and June compared with the same three months in 2019, according to the state Department of Revenue.
Education: Around the same time Wolf order businesses to close, he also ordered schools to send their students home.
Teachers and children finished the 2019-20 school year with remote learning, taking their lessons via Zoom or similar programs while sitting in front of a computer. What could not be replaced were once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as senior proms and graduations.
The 2020-21 school year so far has been a patchwork of in-person and remote learning or a hybrid of the two. Even if a school is open, it can be quickly shuttered for a week or more if positive COVID-19 cases are detected.
Black Lives Matter: Millions of Americans — including thousands of Yorkers — took to the streets last summer to protest the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. During the arrest, an officer kneeled on Floyd's neck for about eight minutes, leading to his death. It was just one of several examples of an unarmed person of color dying in an encounter with law enforcement.
"We are here because we've had enough," said Arlette Morales, who organized a June 1 protest in downtown York City. "We've had enough. And I'm tired of innocent Black men and women getting killed for simply being Black."
In response, many police departments, including York’s, publicly released their use of force policies, and the state Legislature passed police reform laws, which, lawmakers claimed, would make it more difficult for "problematic" officers to find employment, according to The Associated Press.
Officer accused of acting out Floyd’s death at party: A York City police officer was accused of reenacting Floyd's death during a May 30 party, prompting the police commissioner to place him on unpaid leave.
Three people allege that Clayton Swartz and another man role-played the death, with Swartz putting his knee on the other man’s neck and asking him if he could breathe as the other man convulsed.
A three-officer internal York City Police trial board cleared Swartz of wrongdoing Sept. 10. Its decision came after a nine-hour hearing Aug. 19.
On Sept. 16, York City appealed the trial board's ruling to the York County Court of Common Pleas, where it remains.
Diversity curriculum dispute in Central York: The Central York school board voted unanimously in August to table a vote on a social studies curriculum on race after two board members took issue with it.
The decision came after board members Veronica Gemma and Vicki Guth criticized the proposed curriculum, saying it was too focused on white privilege and racism and failed to acknowledge the value of police officers.
The district issued a statement the next day stressing that comments from individual board members did not reflect the views of the board or district as a whole.
About 100 people protested the board’s actions the next month, but the issue remained tabled.
New police chief in York City: Citing a wave of emails from residents in support of him, the York City Council in October approved Mike Muldrow to serve as the police department's commissioner.
"It was heartwarming to hear from so many people so many nice words about Mr. Muldrow," said City Council President Henry Nixon.
Former Commissioner Osborne "Moe" Robinson III’s abrupt resignation in September, which came with few details, became a point of contention between Mayor Michael Helfrich and City Council members, who claimed they had not been briefed.
After about a week of gripes from the City Council, the mayor and Robinson put out a joint statement saying the departure was a "strategic career move" and Robinson had no bad blood with the department.
Muldrow served as the chief of York City School District Police for 12 years and also served as a federal officer for the U.S. Department of Defense Police Department and as an officer at police departments throughout the county.
York City selling the wastewater treatment plant: York City's budget hinges on the sale of its wastewater treatment system, which could include a tax hike of 9.25 mills in 2021 and cut more than two dozen jobs.
But the proposed sale to high bidder Pennsylvania American Water, which offered $235 million for the system, hit a snag last week when City Council member Edquina Washington opposed a budget without tax hikes, which assumed the sale. Washington said she also opposed selling the city's wastewater system.
Council President Nixon predicted last week that the prospects of a last-minute deal were slim. The council has until Thursday to finalize the budget or face the consequences of Helfrich's draft one.
York City Council is expected to debate the issues again Tuesday night.
Central football: The Central York football team made history this month just by being part of the PIAA Class 6-A title game.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, their opponent, St. Joseph's Prep, came into the game with more than a dozen NCAA Division I-bound players and the experience of playing in the past four PIAA 6-A championship contests.
Prep took its third straight state title with a 62-13 victory.
Still, Central quarterback Beau Pribula was selected as the Pennsylvania Football News Coaches Select Class 6-A Player of the Year, and Panther coach Gerry Yonchiuk was picked as the PFN Coaches Select Class 6-A Co-Coach of the Year, sharing the award with Souderton’s Ed Gallagher.