Top news stories of year dominated by COVID-19

Posted 1/7/21

Without a doubt, the pandemic was 2020’s top news story. It permeated every part of daily life, closing schools and businesses, adding terms to the language like “flatten the curve,” “essential businesses” and “social distancing” and forcing major changes to civic and social life, from churches to festivals and fundraising events.

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Top news stories of year dominated by COVID-19


Without a doubt, the pandemic was 2020’s top news story. It permeated every part of daily life, closing schools and businesses, adding terms to the language like “flatten the curve,” “essential businesses” and “social distancing” and forcing major changes to civic and social life, from churches to festivals and fundraising events.

And then there were all the new medical terms and the politicization of steps recommended to help control the highly-contagious disease.

It was like playing the same game every day but with a new set of rules and objectives.

Wood County was largely unaffected in the early days, as the virus had not yet made its way here.

Once it did, case counts rose slowly at first, and then once the county recorded its first death, those were also few and far between initially.

But by the end of the year the area was plunged into a record spike in cases and hospitalizations, even as the vaccine that promised to help stem the tide was being deployed.

Restaurants beefed up to-go options, and businesses adapted to having to limit space for clientele. Online ordering and pickup became a normal method of shopping, and package deliveries ramped up for delivery services and the post office.

Trying to resume some sense of normalcy meant doing things anything but normally, such as temperature checks to enter schools, constant cleaning and hand-washing and putting off, scaling back or canceling anything that might bring people closer together.

Even some of the other top stories of the year – such as elections and taxes – were impacted.


To mark just how strange 2020 was, one of the top stories of the year – taxes – actually included a bit of good news in Wood County.

As property values rose across the county (property values were based on Jan. 1, before the pandemic hit), local government entities like cities, school districts and county government, were able to lower property tax rates accordingly. Whether the actual tax bill declined was based on the property appraisal.

By the time budgets were being worked out in late summer, the pandemic’s impact on the economy meant policy makers were being especially conservative with tax dollars.

In the mean time cities, which rely on sales taxes to fund some operations, braced for declines as businesses were closed, and then when reopened were operating at limited capacity.

But sales tax revenues held up through the year, continuing to eclipse last year’s records.

Among the reasons – online shopping, which increased dramatically, sent sales tax dollars for purchases to the entity of the delivery destination.

And some businesses, like hardware stores, actually reported business was good as folks staying at home took on more improvement projects.

And not to forget, the taxes on all that toilet paper and those margaritas to go (something that should remain after the pandemic is long gone).

Social Justice Movement

In the midst of a global pandemic that already stressed American cultural norms, a police officer leaving his knee on the neck of a suspect in Minneapolis for too long – killing him –  spawned a movement around the globe, even having an impact in Wood County.

During the summer, a small band of peaceful protesters began weekly marches up the main north-south highway in Mineola with the message of social justice for all citizens.

That led, at least indirectly, to a renewed conversation about the chain-link fence that had long separated two cemeteries on the south side of Mineola that for many years were racially segregated.

The boards of the two organizations came together with an agreement that the fence should come down. City crews did the work while many citizens came out to see and record history in the making.

Later the two boards agreed to a merger into one cemetery under one board, along with planned improvements.

Meanwhile a citizens group also held gatherings to see what steps could be taken to improve the local environment for all residents.


COVID-19 forced date changes for elections during 2020. City and school board elections had to be moved to the general election Nov. 3 while runoff elections were moved from May to July. 

Three incumbent county officials were defeated in the primaries. No Democrats ran for local positions in the primaries. 

Incumbents Sheriff Tom Castloo, District Judge Jeff Fletcher and Precinct 3 Constable Gary Dixon lost reelection bids. Fletcher and Dixon lost in the March primary while Castloo ended up in a runoff with challenger Kelly Cole.

Brad McCampbell ousted incumbent Fletcher 4,853 to 4,183. In the hotly contested sheriff’s race Cole received 4,518 votes to 3,722 for Castloo with James Schaffner polling 817 and Callie Carrell-Lawrence 224.  

The runoff was originally set May 26 but moved to July due to COVID-19 restrictions. Cole defeated Castloo 3,578 (69%) votes to 1,632 (31%) in the sheriff’s race.

The race for Wood County Commissioner Precinct 1 also went to a runoff with incumbent Virgil Junior Holland and challenger Keith Gilbreath. Holland defeated Gilbreath 1,078 (63%) to 673 (37%). 

Angela Albers defeated Jodi Cox for the district attorney position 5,838 to 3,343 to win the spot she had been appointed to after the resignation of Jim Wheeler. 

In the Precinct 3 constable’s race challenger John McQueen scored a decisive 1,210 to 615 win over incumbent Dixon. In Precinct 1, long time incumbent Steve Bowser held on to defeat a spirited challenge from Billy Hill 1,955 to 1,547. In Precinct 2 Constable Kelly Smith had no opposition. The Precinct 4 constable position went to Chase Glover who won as a write-in candidate during the general election.

Incumbent Tax-Assessor Collector Carol Taylor also faced no opposition in the primary.

Also during the general election, John Abbott and Rodney Watkins won seats on the Mineola School Board.

In Quitman, Jack Robinson, Susan Resnik and Steve Glenn won alderman spots.

Incumbent Jane Herring and newcomer Vanessa Von Reyn Simpkins won Quitman School Board seats.

In the crowded race for Alba-Golden ISD school board positions, Brad Lennon, Jason Stovall and Randall Cole took the three open spots. Grant Sadler was unopposed for the unexpired term.

In the Yantis ISD race, Jennifer Larkin and Jennifer McKeever took the two available positions.

For state senate, incumbent Republican Bryan Hughes won over Democrat Audrey Spanko by a 75% to 24% margin. Republican Cole Hefner easily won another term as state representative over Democrat LaWyanda Prince by an 80% to 20% margin. 

At the top of the ballot in Wood County, President Donald Trump got 18,962 votes to 3,487 for Democrat Joe Biden.

Economic Development

The COVID-19 pandemic affected individuals and businesses in a variety of ways, from businesses having to close and being able to operate with restrictions.

During the earlier part of 2020, shoppers found toilet paper and paper goods hard to come by. 

Local economic development organizations throughout Wood County worked with citizens in an effort to keep businesses afloat and give a helping hand. Economic develop groups working to aid local businesses were the Wood County EDC, Mineola EDC, Quitman EDC and Alba EDC.

The Wood County Economic Development Commission (WCEDC) funded a Wood County Business Relief package for those businesses in financial need. Wood County commissioners eventually approved $200,000 for the project. 

The WCEDC hired a new executive director, Roger Johnson, who stayed on the job until his resignation in November. The WCEDC was one of the sponsors of the Bassmaster Tournament at Lake Fork. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the tournament had to be moved from May to November. Due to constraints on attendance because of COVID-19 protocol, the economic benefits for Wood County were nowhere near what was expected.

The Mineola EDC kicked in $10,000 when Mineola Community Bank began a business relief plan. The Small Town Strong project was initiated by the bank to help small businesses to remain functional by offering assistance with fixed expenses such as rent or utilities.

The Quitman EDC got involved early in the race to help local businesses survive. The first phase of the program offered $500 in gift cards for the business or a $300 grant. 

In the first phase of the program, the QDC was able to give out 24 grants to local businesses in need. 

The Alba EDC offered up to $2,000 to assist local businesses with utilities, mortgage interest and rent during March, April and May.