A year we will never forget is coming to an end, giving way to a year we hope will be filled with more positive news. In Loudoun County, more than 150 people died from COVID-19 in 2020, while thousands contracted the virus.
The pandemic brought out the best in Loudoun residents who volunteered their time and donated money to help front-line workers and small businesses struggling to survive.
Containing the spread of the coronavirus meant families were forced to adjust to remote learning, with schools shutting down in-person education for students.
Businesses, with assistance from local governments, adopted innovative methods to generate revenue during the worst of the restrictions, from curbside pickup to heated outdoor dining when the weather turned colder.
Beyond the pandemic, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis set off a racial reckoning across the country, including in Loudoun.
The Times-Mirror put together a list of top 10 stories from 2020 that resonated most with its readers. Here's a look back at a year that most people couldn’t wait to see end.
Coronavirus arrives in Loudoun
As coronavirus cases began to spread across the country, Loudoun County officials held a press conference on March 10 after the first presumptive positive case arrived in the county. On March 26, Loudoun County announced its first death from coronavirus. The victim was Loudoun County Public Schools employee Susan Rokus, who was in her 70s. As of Dec. 31, Loudoun has seen 14,169 cases and 159 deaths.
Parents, students and teachers
Loudoun County Public School students have been attending school — with only some exceptions — via distance learning while on Chromebooks since March. Unless coronavirus positivity rates decline, distance learning is expected to be the norm well into the new year, despite frustrations expressed by parents and students who are seeing declining grades and issues surrounding social isolation.
Finding entertainment — safely
With options for dining out and entertainment constantly evolving since March, Loudoun's restaurateurs, breweries, wineries and other local entertainment venues have had to pivot to follow state regulations during the pandemic. Loudoun County residents have been creative in finding entertainment. By May, two months into the quarantine, several families in Loudoun County were making the most of their time together by creating special date nights.
Honoring the late Fitz Thomas
The family of Fitz Thomas received an outpouring of support after the drowning death of the 16-year-old boy in June. As a result of the accident, recommendations for changes in the 911 call routing system are being discussed on a state level. In addition, in October, the Loudoun County School Board voted to name the football stadium at Riverside High School Fitz Alexander Campbell Thomas Stadium. Thomas was a student at the high school, where he played football. Thomas drowned after attempting to swim across the confluence of Goose Creek and the Potomac River, according to the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office.
Addressing racism in schools
In September, the Loudoun County School Board and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors formally apologized for the past operation of segregated schools in the county. As part of its “Action Plan to Combat Systemic Racism,” LCPS considered the removal of Loudoun County High School’s longstanding “Raiders” mascot, which the School Board ultimately approved unanimously in June. Later in the year, the Office of the Virginia Attorney General’s Division of Human Rights determined that Loudoun County Public Schools had a discriminatory impact on Black/African American and Latinx/Hispanic students that applied to the Academies of Loudoun in 2018.
Black Lives Matter protests
Thousands of Loudoun County residents marched in support of the Black Lives Matter movement during the summer and into the fall. In Leesburg, more than 1,500 people clogged the downtown area on the last Sunday of May to remember George Floyd, a Black man who died at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer only a few days earlier. A week later, more than 1,000 people marched in Purcellville for Black lives, the biggest demonstration the town has ever seen.
The Virginia General Assembly voted earlier in 2020 to give localities the ability to remove, relocate, or contextualize the monuments in their communities. The law went into effect July 1. The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors was planning to consider how to remove the United Daughters’ Confederate statue on the grounds of the Loudoun County Courthouse when the group requested that the statue be returned. The statue, known as the “Silent Sentinel,” was removed in the overnight hours of July 21-22.
Change in governing structures?
In July, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors directed county staff to develop a list of law enforcement options, specifically the establishment of a Loudoun County Police Department. Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman (R) opposes efforts to switch to a police department structure, noting that the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office has a nearly 90 percent public approval rating, according a recent Loudoun County government-initiated citizen survey. The Board of Supervisors also is considering changing the governance structure of the county’s library system. The Library Board of Trustees, the members of which are appointed by the supervisors, has administered the library system that includes 10 branches since the 1970s.
While the Route 9 Traffic Calming road construction project began in March, the project — which has shut down a major artery for commuters traveling from West Virginia to Northern Virginia — is running slightly ahead of schedule due to reduced traffic during the pandemic. It is slated to be completed in April 2021. In December, the operator of White's Ferry announced it was shutting down after a lengthy legal battle, eliminating another popular transportation artery across the Potomac River between Loudoun County and Maryland.
Data centers keep humming
In January 2020, news broke that Amazon Data Services had acquired 100 acres in Chantilly as part of a $73 million deal. The land would be used to build new data centers in the Dulles area. In February, the Board of Supervisors approved Luck Stone Corporation’s plans to rezone more than 60 acres near Leesburg from quarrying uses to allow data center development. Later in the year, the Times-Mirror reported that Digital Western Lands LLC, a subsidiary of Digital Realty Trust, is proposing construction of a data center campus in the Dulles area. Loudoun County is home to more than 70 data centers, with most of them falling in the Ashburn corridor that has become known as “Data Center Alley.”