The year 2020 is almost coming to an end. The year was packed — with a pandemic, an active hurricane season, civil unrest, Confederate monuments and beaches closing and reopening. As we look toward 2021, here's a look back at the stories that resonated in 2020.
Most of our traffic this year was dedicated to our Coronavirus Live Blog, which we still maintain with the FDOH daily updates and the Hurricane Live Blog which was originally created to share updates about Hurricane Sally but then became a space for the line of storms that followed. Below is a look at the stories that were most popular on our website in this not-so-normal year.
Local author and historian, Phillip Hoffman chronicled the story of the "Turncoat Hero" David Fagen, who was also the focus of Arcadia Mill's Black History Month presentation earlier this year before the pandemic outbreak.
Before shutdowns and daily press conferences, Santa Rosa County confirmed one of the first COVID cases in the Northwest Florida area.
Walton County attorney, Daniel Uhlfelder, filed a lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis for not closing beaches statewide saying the governor was "shirking his responsibility" to local governments. Later, when beaches would reopen, Uhlfelder dressed as the Grim Reaper to warn people about the dangers of spreading COVID.
Local governments across the panhandle began closing beaches early in the pandemic outbreak to detract tourists. But by early May, those same council members and commissioners opted to re-open the beaches on May 1.
A controlled burn in Santa Rosa County, dubbed the Five Mile Swamp Fire, consumed 2,000 acres of land and destroyed a dozen homes.
As part of the state's Phase One reopening, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that short-term rentals would be allowed on a case-by-case basis. This was big news for the panhandle ahead of peak tourism season.
The City of Pensacola was one of the few municipalities, along with the City of Gulf Breeze and City of Mary Esther, to pass a mandate requiring masks in businesses within city limits. The City of Milton's Mayor also issued a mandate which was rescined by the council days later.
After the death of George Floyd, there were protests around the world, including a weeks-long protest at the foot of Graffiti Bridge in Pensacola. And more protests gained supporters across the panhandle. The protests remained peaceful and without incident, with the exception for one protestor who rode on the hood of a car that drove into a crowd.
In July, Pensacola City Council voted to remove the 129-year-old Confederate Monument. That same month, protesters gathered at the Walton County Courthouse to take down its Confederate monument and move it elsewhere, there were also counter-protestors to keep the monument where it is.
The year 2020 was on record as the most active Atlantic Hurricane Season. In September, Hurricane Sally made landfall in Gulf Shores, Alabama causing major damage to nearby areas including Escambia County.
With cooler weather came another spike in COVID cases throughout the panhandle. In November, Escambia County said they would be bringing back some COVID-19 precautions. In Okaloosa County, commissioners said they didn't believe they would be taking stronger actions, even as cases continue to rise.