Hindsight is 2020; Coronavirus designated top story for the year

by Benita Fuzzell

(Editor’s Note: As I began to scan through the pages of the 2020 Currents, in preparation for the usual “Top Stories of the Year” edition, I couldn’t help but experience an emotionally charged flashback, to a time not so long ago, when Covid, masks or social distancing was not included in everyday conversation. I am not dramatic by nature, but with each edition, literally unfolding before my eyes, the same sense of dread, fear, anxiety, the unknown, resurfaced, near the same level of intensity as so many of us experienced, beginning in March. All things Covid-related seemed to consume all aspects of life, at a rapid pace. But, there were high points to our 2020. There will always be high points. While there would be no way around designating this previously unknown and unnamed virus we now call Covid, as a top story of the year, following are many, many significant, poignant, joyful, tearful, memorable stories and photos, which filled our pages.)

It was in the March 18 edition of The Current, that the COVID-19, Coronavirus headline first made an appearance, but it would not be the last, as an initial informational briefing for Fulton County was held at the Fulton County Office Complex March 13, including representation from health departments, nursing homes, city managers, county judge/executives, the detention center, house authority, rescue squad, school boards and superintendents.

The story states the meeting was called by J.L. Atwill, Fulton County Emergency Management Director, following the schools’ decision, initially, to close for a two week period.

Lindsey Cunningham with the Purchase District Health Department addressed those in attendance.

“This is not an easy time right now. Currently, there is a low chance of you being tested for COVID-19. I don’t know when that will be available. We don’t have any confirmed cases in Region 1 right now....This is a mild illness for the most part. the average healthy person would suffer a fever, cough, and possibly some shortness of breath. I feel the shortness of breath is more of an allergy. I don’t think it is something people will be struggling with,” she said.

Also on page one of the March 18 edition, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced plans for “even more decisive steps he is taking to contain and limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“We’re going to be dealing with this for some time, I can not tell you how long, but I need everybody to be a good citizen -- to remember that this is Team Kentucky. This is us against the coronavirus. At this point it is all hands on deck. Every single one of us is important in this fight. I hope it gives you a sense of purpose and patriotic duty; to your country, to this Commonwealth. What we do is we protect one another. Let’s defeat this. Let’s defeat it on our first try,” Gov. Beshear said.

JAN. 29

With funding provided by the Purchase District Health Department, indoor air quality was assessed in five workplaces in Fulton County, with the “Breathe Clean Fulton County” initiative announced the previous week at an informational meeting at West Hickman Baptist Church. The level of indoor air pollution was 6.1 times higher than the National Ambient Air Quality Standard.

At the Jan. 27 Fulton City Commission meeting, City Commissioner Martha Vowell requested the revisiting of a city ordinance to prohibit the use of tobacco products as well as e-cigarettes in restaurants, a matter previously discussed and an ordinance related for the purpose, however no action had ever been taken. Mayor David Prater and City Manager Mike Gunn agreed to begin the process of re-drafting an ordinance relating to the subject and further, allow business owners the opportunity to voice their concerns before a final decision is reached.

FEB. 5

Takai Carbon GE, LLC, a manufacturer of graphite electrodes for the United States steel industry, which as a plant in Hickman announced plans to create up to 15 full time jobs with a $25 million investment.

FEB. 19

Fans attending the Fulton Independent High School- Fulton County High School basketball game Feb. 14 at Fulton County were ordered to exit the gym before the contest ending , for the “highly competitive and exciting” game, which went from three quarters of spirited competition to a chaotic scene with only .03 seconds remaining in the third round of play. As the Pilots were ahead 50-42, Head FIS Coach John Dillard contested a non-call by game officials, resulting in his ejection, followed by a Fulton County fan and a Fulton City fan also ejected from the gym.

Coaches, players and media were allowed to remain in the gym until the game concluded, with Fulton County winning, 67-49.


Following a discussion by the Fulton-Hickman Counties Economic Development Partnership Feb. 26, the FHCEDP board members made the decision to explore of adding a seat to the board, to include representation from the Hickman County Judge-Executive’s office. Fulton County Judge Executive Jim Martin stated the Hickman County Fiscal Court had made a request to be included in the partnership, and it was his recommendation to add their representation.


After seven days of searching on the Tennessee River for three missing Obion County boaters, two of which were students at Obion County Central High School, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, TEMA and Hardin County Fire Department announced the reduction of the workforce conducting the search and recovery effort. The damaged bass boat, which had contained 43 year old Kenneth Driver and two 15-year old members of the OCCHS bass fishing team was located on Feb. 24 near the Savannah Bridge. Reportedly, Driver and the two teens were aboard the boat when it went through the flood gates of Pickwick Dam on the morning of Feb. 22. All three occupants of the boat were eventually recovered.


Fulton County Schools Superintendent Aaron Collins announced plans for the district to begin door to door pick up, using Fulton County School system’s buses, to transport students who live within the city limits of Fulton, to school in Hickman at Fulton County Elementary, Middle and High School.


Fulton County Track and Field athlete Corey Smith, Jr. won the gold medal in the Triple Jump at the Kentucky State indoor championship held March 7 in Maysville. Smith turned in the top leap with a jump of 42 feet, 9 inches. The Fulton County Pilots’ junior also placed third in the Long Jump, with a leap of 18 feet, 10 inches.


Anchoring the bottom of page one in our March 18 edition, was an editorial, submitted by Ken Paulson, Director of Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University, in recognition of “Sunshine Week 2020”.

Paulson states “As the scope and threat of the coronavirus pandemic becomes clear, people all over the world hunger for two things: an effective vaccine and truthful information about the disease. The former may be more than a year away, bu the latter is critical to stemming the pandemic in the meantime. This is Sunshine Week, a time each year when people like me write columns about some legislature’s wrong-headed move to limit access to public records, and then try to make the case for greater access to public information and transparency in government. But we’re facing something far more dangerous than any state legislature could conjure up. When the public is desperate for information, government needs to maximize authoritative information from scientists and experts...that appropriately gives Americans what they need to know and counters irresponsible pundits who have sought to minimize the threat to score political or ratings points....More than anything else, through, this crisis reminds us of how wise the first generation of Americans was in demanding a free press. Despite the inevitable accusations by some that the news media were “hyping” this threat, traditional media have been measured and thorough...closer to home, local newspapers and broadcasters have devoted extensive resources to reporting how the virus will affect the communities they serve...”


Internet videoconferencing, ZOOM, as it came to be known, made a debut via Fulton City Commission’s meeting March 23, with a photo tag line of “HIGH TECH TRANSPARENCY”, for the method of public access to governmental meetings, through the use of an electronic device such as a computer, smart phone or tablet, as well as by telephone. “Phone - in “ procedures during public meetings, as well as the use of facility drive-through windows to conduct public business became commonplace, to limit person to person access, in an attempt to curb transmission of the COVID-19.


• In a Covid election year, steps were taken to accommodate voters, including Fulton County Clerk Naomi T. Jones’ initiating discussion with members of the Fulton County Fiscal Court April 13, as reported in the April 15 editionof the Current, the State Board of Elections was considering the postponement of the primary to June 30, and a mail-in option to cast votes.

• As reported in the same edition, Kentucky Gov. Beshear announced a testing partnership was ramping up just as data is beginning to show Kentucky is flattening the curve in its fight against the novel coronavirus disease 2019.

• The Tennessee Department of Health, as of April 13, reported eight cases of Covid-19 had been reported in Obion County, with two of those listed recovered and six in Weakley County, Tenn.


• Headlines on page one announced the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s schools would close for the remainder of the school year, while Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced the order for Tennesseans to remain at home will expire april 30, with the vast majority of businesses in 89 Tennessee counties allowed to re-open May 1.

• Fulton Independent Schools and South Fulton Schools’ Food Service staff faced a challenge in assuring students in a “learning at home” environment continued to receive nutritional meals each day, but both staffs came through with flying colors for students, preparing meals at school facilities, providing drive-up pickup for students who could come to the school campuses, and also deliver to neighborhoods throughout the community.


• The Twin Cities Chamber of Commerce, through an anonymous donation, announced the administration of interest free loans to small, independent, locally owned businesses in Fulton and South Fulton, with a deadline of May 1 set to apply. Small businesses and restaurants, hit hard with governmental forced closures and restrictions, could request and apply for up to $5,000.

• After a meeting of the Ohio Valley League ownership April 26, League President John M. Bruce released the announcement the 2020 OVL baseball season would be cancelled, resulting in Fulton Railroaders’ Lohaus Field, “The Yard” missing the roar of a hometown crowd cheering on the boys of summer, and the silencing of wooden bats until the 2021 season.

• South Fulton High School planned a modified graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020, Fulton Independent announced a virtual graduation would be observed and Fulton County High School continued to discuss and explore options for their seniors.

MAY 13

• Fulton’s Farmers Market was set and ready to begin, following a Municipal Order approved by the Fulton City Commission, and the approval of official Rules and Regulations to provide guidance for a well maintained and operated market.

• Hickman’s City Commission chose to move forward with the town’s annual fireworks display in the harbor July 4.

MAY 22

• Seated per required social distancing requirements, members of the South Fulton High School Class of 2020, in the presence of socially distanced family members, crossed their tassels and tossed their caps during graduation ceremonies at the SFHS gym May 23.


• Fulton County High School’s seniors transformed to graduates on May 29, in their school gym, remaining socially distanced in chairs on the gym floor. Families were allowed to be present, also socially distanced, in the gymnasium bleachers.


• While Fulton’s City Commission first supported the Fulton Tourism Commission’s annual fireworks display show for Independence day, during their regular session June 8, two weeks later, on June 22, City Manager Mike Gunn reported to the commission he had received notification from the Kentucky League of Cities, KLC, the city’s insurance provider, which could impact city sponsored events. He explained that pathogens such as Covid-19 had been added to wording in the KLC information associated with coverage of city events. He said what that additions equates to, is that if someone who attends a city sponsored event were to contract the coronavirus there, the city could be subject to a lawsuit. City Attorney Allison Whitledge explained a lawsuit could be brought against the city at any time, with or without merit, however regardless, in either case, a defense would be required, which could be costly. Ultimately the July 4 fireworks display and the outdoor concert scheduled for July 11 were cancelled.


• Graduates of the inaugural EMT Basic Class from Four Rivers Career Academy gathered June 22 in the South Fulton Municipal Complex Harvey Vick Community Room for an Honors Ceremony to mark their graduation.

• Fulton County Clerk Naomi T. Jones announced although the Kentucky State Primary was held June 23, the Commonwealth’s election results would not be released by her office until June 30. Kentucky absentee ballots were to be postmarked by June 23 and received by June 27 to count in the Primary, she said.


In the June 23 Kentucky Primary, tabulations were recorded from two different in person absentee scanners, in person handicap absentee, election day machine 1 scanner, election day machine 2 scanner, election day handicap and absentee mail scanner. As of June 30, totals from Kentuckians voting for Republican incumbent Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump totaled 367,410, with Democrat Joseph R. Biden receiving a total of 361,505 votes across the Commonwealth.


Members of the Fulton Tourism Commission board voted on July to cancel September’s Banana Festival, in light of the city’s notification as to insurance coverage issues, surrounding potential lawsuits which could result from allegations festival attendees contracted the Covid-19 virus during Banana Festival events.


The Fulton-Hickman Counties Economic Development Partnership expanded their circle of partners, as well as available acreage for industrial prospects July 21, welcoming the additions of representation from Fulton County Industrial Development Authority, Hickman County IDA and Hickman County Judge/Executive’s office.


Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education Dr. Penny Schwinn spoke to a group of Obion County School System’s educators and staff at Obion County Central High School Aug. 3, offering his encouragement for “leaning in to the unprecedented conditions surrounding the 2020-2021 school year. The pair also delivered the fist of 80,000+ classroom safety boxes for use by teachers in their classrooms.


Fulton County Transit Authority Executive Director Kenney Etherton, who took on the coordination and negotiations to construct a new Amtrak Station in Fulton, announced his receipt of a letter dated July 27, in which Derrick James, Amtrak Government Affairs, stated “Our schedule will allow us to commence design of a new structure, parking and passenger boarding platform in fiscal year 2021, with construction planned for 2022.”


Hickman’s Planning and Zoning Commission heard the news during a special called meeting held Aug. 24 at Hickman City Hall, through Max McDade’s address to the board, via ZOOM videoconferencing, that he planned to bring Kentucky Meatwerks, Inc. to Hickman, and was seeking to begin the process of obtaining conditional use approval for a cattle processing facility, processing 150 animals per day. McDade said Kentucky Meatwerks had contracted to acquire a 75,000 square foot warehouse and office facility on 17.9 acres.


Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced Aug. 31 funding for access roads to spur development at Fulton’s industrial park site, as the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet agreed to provide up to $146,500 to Fulton County Fiscal Court toward design and construction of a boulevard entrance to a new industrial park, a joint venture between Fulton County and Hickman County.


Area community leaders, officials and stakeholders were on hand Oct. 20 at Fulton’s Pontotoc Park Community Center, for a ribbon cutting ceremony to recognize the unveiling of a new logo and name for the industrial park formerly known as Fulton Industrial Park. Enterprise Park At Fulton, which includes property in Fulton County as well as adjacent Hickman County, came to fruition through a formed partnership between the counties, as well as the Fulton Hickman Counties Economic Development Partnership.


Republican Presidential candidate and incumbent Donald J. Trump and running mate Mike Pence took the Commonwealth in the Nov. 3 election. The state of Tennessee, likewise chose President Trump/Vice President Pence, 661,582 votes to Democrat Joseph Biden and running mate Kamala Harris, with 432,064 votes.

Also in this edition, the South Fulton Parks and Recreation Board, in conjunction with the City of South Fulton, scaled back their traditional Halloween event for trunk or treating, cancelling games customarily set up in locations around Unity Park, but allowing for clubs, churches and families to display stations to distribute candy and treats to area children for two hours Oct. 31.


As covid-19 associated governmental recommendations and restrictions loosened for retail businesses in both Kentucky and Tennessee, the Twin Cities Chamber of Commerce implemented a modified version of the annual Ladies Night Out Shopping event in the Twin Cities, this year opting to expand the event into two shopping days, on Friday evening and Saturday, Nov. 6-7, to allow for social distancing and limited capacity in some locations.


Shop Small and Shop Local was promoted in the Nov. 25 edition, to encourage safe, localized shopping for the holiday season, as the Twin Cities Chamber began to make presentations individually for Industry, Business, Young Professional, and Citizen of the Year. Traditionally awarded during the Chamber’s annual Awards Banquet in the Spring, that event was cancelled as a result of covid related restrictions for gatherings.


Santa kept his distance, but was close enough to hear every item on the lists of children who visited with him this year in the Pontotoc Park gazebo, at Christmas in the Park, sponsored by the Fulton Tourism Commission. Twin Cities’ Men’s Organization sponsored a charity fundraiser chili supper, with meals pre-packaged, to-go, the community Christmas tree was officially illuminated by Citizen of the Year Darcy Linn and a fireworks display was enjoyed by those in attendance.


At Hickman’s Christmas Parade, roles were reversed for spectators and parade entries, with families given the opportunity to pass by and view each float, stationed at the Fulton County High School parking lot. The parade was held Dec. 21.