In a year dominated by COVID-19, nurse conducted tests at a WhidbeyHealth makeshift drive-thru tent in the back parking lot in March. File photo by Brandon Taylor/Whidbey News-Times

In a year dominated by COVID-19, nurse conducted tests at a WhidbeyHealth makeshift drive-thru tent in the back parking lot in March. File photo by Brandon Taylor/Whidbey News-Times

So long, 2020

A look back on a year unlike any other.

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 were hit hard economically by the pandemic and hamstrung in other ways. The Whidbey News-Times and South Whidbey Record 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 to conduct business online. Businesses innovated. Events were cancelled or moved online. Members of the community communicated and reached out to each other through social media.

The News-Times 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 online petition asks the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce not to change the name of the Holland Happening celebration to “Spring Celebration.” The chamber later announces that the name will remain.

Former Oak Harbor resident Gabriel Shiver is accused of blackmailing girls and women across the nation into providing him with demeaning sexually explicit material. He later pleaded guilty to possessing child porn and a half dozen extortion charges and was sentenced to 70 months in prison.

David Goodman, a volunteer coach for the Oak Harbor High School’s NJROTC air rifle team, is arrested after he allegedly shot a handgun accidentally and severely injured an elderly woman while dining at Frasers Gourmet Hideaway in Oak Harbor. He was later charged with assault in the third degree and reckless endangerment; the woman who was shot through the chest filed a lawsuit against him, claiming the wound led to her losing both her legs.

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

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.

Roman Ogourtsov pleads guilty to theft in the first degree and money laundering for setting up a bogus internet site to sell high-end TV sets. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison and ordered to repay more than $750,000 to his victims.

Both the Oak Harbor and Coupeville high school cheerleading teams qualify for a national competition.

Jesus M. Angel is wanted on a $75,000 arrest warrant after he’s accused of stalking in Island County and kidnapping in Skagit County.

February

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

As a result of heavy rains, the city of Oak Harbor pumps thousands of gallons of untreated sewage into Puget Sound from its new sewage treatment plant. Island County was one of 19 counties to be part of an official emergency. Later in the year, city officials agree to invest in measures to increase the plant’s capacity.

James Croft purchases the iconic Roller Barn in Oak Harbor and hopes to raise money to restore it.

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

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.

Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock rules that the Low Income Housing Institute’s proposed housing development in downtown Oak Harbor does not conform to the zoning code. The Oak Harbor Main Street Association had filed a land use petition, arguing that the city council’s approval of the project was unlawful. The Housing Institute appealed to the state Court of Appeals.

Oak Harbor City Council members voice concerns about proposed increases in utility rates. The sizable rate increases — for water, sewage treatment, solid waste and storm drain — are discussed several times during the year and delayed because of concerns about people being able to afford the cost during the pandemic.

March

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 emergency spending.

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 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.

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.

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.

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

May

SPIN Cafe works with local churches to hand out sack lunches to homeless individuals.

A Central Whidbey resident filed a lawsuit against Island County because his driveway to a road wasn’t reconnected after the massive 2013 Ledgewood Beach landslide.

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.

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

Bill Larsen resigns from the Oak Harbor City Council because he was moving.

June

Black Lives Matter protests are held in Oak Harbor.

The Fleet Reserve building in Oak Harbor was damaged by a fire.

Whidbey pot shops say business is booming.

High school graduations are held in COVID-safe manners.

Oak Harbor High School investigates a potentially inappropriate comment made on social media by a paraeducator over Black Lives Matter.

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.

The Oak Harbor High School Navy Junior Reserve Officer Corps finish second in “Best Unit in the Navy” competition.

A North Whidbey woman starts a reward fund for information related to the person who fatally injured a cat with fireworks.

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.

Oak Harbor police ask the Bellingham Police Department to investigate a political videographer’s allegations that he was assaulted at a right-wing political event in Oak Harbor. Seattle resident Zach Wurtz claimed that an Oak Harbor developer stole his video camera and erased video and that a South Whidbey activist tackled him to the ground. The investigation cast some doubts into the accusations, but didn’t come to any conclusions or answer all the questions.

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

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.

Oak Harbor City Council purchases two more Portland loos. They will go in Flintstone Park.

The west side of Whidbey Island is shut down for shellfish harvesting due to red tide.

A 66-year-old Oak Harbor man is arrested on suspicion of murdering a man in Montana nine years prior over an access road dispute. Leon Ford is accused of murdering John Cries and burying his body parts in wooded areas in Montana. Ford posted the $500,000 bail in Island County and later surrendered himself in Montana.

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.

The Oak Harbor City Council approves the purchase of body cameras for police officers,

A former Navy sailor files a $20 million lawsuit against Island County. Heath Garcia was shot in the ankle by his friend, Nicholas Perkins, during a 2017 standoff with sheriff’s deputies. Perkins was shot and killed by a deputy.

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.

September

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

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.

Deception Pass Tours helps in the rescue after a boat capsized in the pass.

Island County commissioners award the city of Oak Harbor $675,000 in Rural County Economic Development Infrastructure Grants to purchase a private boatyard next to the marina.

Oak Harbor Public Works Director Cathy Rosen and the former city administrator files a lawsuit against Mayor Bob Severns and Blaine Oborn, claiming retaliation against whistleblowing, violations of laws against creating a hostile work environment, violation of public records laws and infliction of emotional distress. Oborn is also accused of gender discrimination.

October

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

Oak Harbor teachers are tested in batches as some students return to classes.

Oak Harbor City Council raises utility rates despite an outcry.

Oak Harbor City Council spends $15,000 in CARES Act funding to hire a company to gauge public opinion by looking at certain kinds of social media.

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.

Negotiations break down between Oak Harbor and the Navy over hooking the Seaplane Base into the city’s new sewage treatment plant. Negotiators on both sides were millions of dollars apart. City officials claimed that the Navy’s offer would have forced city ratepayers to pay more and subsidize the Navy. The Navy said it was willing to pay its fair share.

Jill Johnson, the incumbent Republican, and Melanie Bacon, a Democrat, 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.

North Whidbey Fire and Rescue wins its first levy increase in years to purchase updated equipment.

New cases of COVID continue to rise but remain below surrounding counties.

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

Christopher Rickert was arrested and held on $75,000 bail after allegedly robbing Big 5 Sporting Goods. Witnesses said he was armed with a compact machine gun, the police report says.

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.

A jury deadlocked in a complex and emotional child rape trial that took up much of November. North Whidbey resident Charles Ringer Jr. was accused of raping his stepdaughter for years, a claim he denied. Prosecutors said they will retry the case in 2021.

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

The Oak Harbor Police Department earns accreditation with the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

December

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

The Oak Harbor School Board draws criticism from some teachers by changing the metrics of a reopening plan so that students in lower grades will continue to spend some days in classes.

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 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.

Riley Thompson is accused of committing a drive-by shooting on Libbey Road during an argument and later leading police on a car chase on North Whidbey, according to police reports.

A house fire in Admiral’s Cove in October displaced three adults, but there were no injuries. File photo by CWFR Deputy Chief Charlie Smith

A house fire in Admiral’s Cove in October displaced three adults, but there were no injuries. File photo by CWFR Deputy Chief Charlie Smith

Protesters gathered along Highway 20 and Beeksma Drive in June in response to the killing of Minnesotta man George Floyd, who died as a police officer leaned on his neck with a knee. File photo by Brandon Taylor

Protesters gathered along Highway 20 and Beeksma Drive in June in response to the killing of Minnesotta man George Floyd, who died as a police officer leaned on his neck with a knee. File photo by Brandon Taylor

Arianna Ohmann holds a sign in June calling on people to say the names of men and women who died at the hands of police. File photo by Brandon Taylor

Arianna Ohmann holds a sign in June calling on people to say the names of men and women who died at the hands of police. File photo by Brandon Taylor

Teachers at North Whidbey Middle School send students a message using red Solo cups in the school’s fence in April. The message, with hearts on each side, says, “We miss you students.” File photo by John Fisken

Teachers at North Whidbey Middle School send students a message using red Solo cups in the school’s fence in April. The message, with hearts on each side, says, “We miss you students.” File photo by John Fisken

A sea creature found in August at Ebey’s Landing was identified as a possible <em>Haliphron </em><em>atlanticus</em>, or seven-armed octopus, and gained the attention of scientists across the nation. Photo by Ron Newberry

A sea creature found in August at Ebey’s Landing was identified as a possible Haliphron atlanticus, or seven-armed octopus, and gained the attention of scientists across the nation. Photo by Ron Newberry

Despite rainy weather in June, a group of Oak Harbor High School students celebrate during a parade held on Pioneer Way. File photo by John Fisken

Despite rainy weather in June, a group of Oak Harbor High School students celebrate during a parade held on Pioneer Way. File photo by John Fisken

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