Goodbye and good riddance, 2020.
While the coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly dominated local, state, national and global news this year, Times Free Press readers voted on what they thought were other significant stories that affected the Chattanooga region in 2020.
Out of more than 470 votes, these stories made the top 10 list:
The novel coronavirus hit Hamilton County and the region starting in March. In a 21-county region of Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama, 1,023 people have died from the virus since the pandemic began. In the early days of the pandemic, its most virulent hotspots were Italy and New York. The latest statistics show Tennessee is currently one of the worst states for the virus in the entire country.
Seven tornadoes touched down in the Chattanooga region, killing 11 people, on April 12. The Easter storms resulted in more than 15,000 insurance claims in the Chattanooga area, including nearly 11,000 for damage to residential property, according to the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance. In all, there were $444 million in losses, more than $325 million of that to residential property.
The May 25 death of George Floyd, an African American man, under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer sparked nationwide and worldwide protests over police brutality, including in Chattanooga. One of the catch phrases of the movement was "defund the police." In Chattanooga, some $2 million in shifts were made to the Fiscal Year 2021 budget amid weeks of protests, and activists hoped the groundwork laid during this year's protests would further influence future decisions.
Volkswagen in March announced it will hire 600 more employees at its Chattanooga plant, making it one of the biggest hiring surges since the plant opened in Hamilton County. The company unveiled the electric SUV that will be made in Chattanooga. The price of the ID.4, coming to America in 2021 from Germany and expected to roll out of the plant in 2022, is $39,995 before a possible $7,500 government tax credit.
Joe Biden in November won the presidential race in Georgia, becoming the first Democrat to do so since 1992. His victory by a 12,000-vote margin over Republican Donald Trump was not without controversy, as Georgia was one of a handful of battleground states where Trump loyalists raised questions about voting irregularities. Although their arguments have not been successful in court, they are pushing to have Congress reject the results when signing off on the Electoral College outcome on Jan. 6.
As schools move to virtual learning amid the pandemic, EPB in July announced it will provide internet for Hamilton County Schools students at no charge for low-income families. According to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, the city was the first in the country to "bridge the digital divide" in education by providing free internet to all students in need. "In 2020, if it wasn't obvious before, it's more apparent than ever: High-speed broadband is a baseline need for American families," he said.
Friends of the Festival, the organization that produced the Riverbend Festival for 33 years, in November reduced its staff and liquidated its assets with the hopes of being able to hold a "different festival" in the future. The Riverbend Festival started in 1982 as a five-day event spread out over the city with several goals in mind, including engaging the community, spotlighting the city on a national level, increasing civic pride, promoting local arts organizations and having a positive economic impact.
A seven-year-old girl and her bus driver were killed in an accident in Meigs County in October, in a crash with a utility truck that left one other student in critical condition, officials said. Seven other children were hospitalized after the utility vehicle — driven by 56-year-old Terry Trammell — slid sideways into the bus' path in the 7700 block of Highway 58.
Chattanooga-based CBL, one of the biggest mall operators in the country, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November, battered by the coronavirus pandemic and the shift by many shoppers to online retailers. CBL said its centers will remain open and it will be "business as usual" as it reworks its massive debt load in the bankruptcy court.
The Hamilton County Attorney's Office destroyed 98% of records requested by the Times Free Press, which then led to a bill passed in the Senate in June that prohibits the destruction of records subject to a pending open records request and requires government entities to maintain records related to records requests for at least 12 months, with up to a $500 fine per offense.
— Compiled by Allison Collins
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