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Even Before Pandemic - UNLV NewsCenter

Even Before Pandemic - UNLV NewsCenter Even Before Pandemic - UNLV NewsCenter Posted: 05 Oct 2020 12:00 AM PDT Even before the coronavirus pandemic propelled UNLV into remote learning in the spring, online courses at UNLV were prevalent.  "There's been a steady decrease in the number of students that have never taken an online course," said Elizabeth Barrie, the director of the Office of Online Education . She recently presented during The State of Online Education webinar event. It highlighted some of the initiatives and cross-campus partnerships that contribute to student achievement and shared how faculty prepared for online learning through the summer. She noted that 95% of students who graduated in spring 2020 with an undergraduate degree had taken at least one online course. And, compared to past years, there has been an increase in the number of students who have taken more than 30 credits, or two semesters, online. 

WATCH NOW: 2020: You are not going to forget this one. - Martinsville Bulletin

WATCH NOW: 2020: You are not going to forget this one. - Martinsville Bulletin

WATCH NOW: 2020: You are not going to forget this one. - Martinsville Bulletin

Posted: 24 Dec 2020 06:12 AM PST


The year 2020 in our local community will no doubt be remembered, as it will for almost all of civilization, as the year of the coronavirus pandemic.

1 Martinsville Speedway

A lone fan looks onto the track at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday. The NASCAR Cup Series was supposed to race at Martinsvills on Saturday night, but it was postponed due to the coronavirus.

In nine months we went from only a hint of a foreign virus on the other side of the world to 106 deaths in Martinsville and Henry County and Patrick counties to that same virus - we quickly forgot the stories that began the year and reshaped everything and everywhere.

Whatever momentum was built died at the Ides of March, when the nation pretty much shut down against the onslaught of COVID-19. Spring was a time of dying rather than rebirth, as we saw that a virus that had crossed the globe could reach out and take a life right here in Southside Virginia.

It also took life itself in many ways. We went home and we stayed there. We hunkered inside. Martinsville Speedway went from the roar of a crowd to the echo of engines. Stores and restaurants went dark. Church pews emptied. We worked from our dens. We met via Zoom. Our kids studied in their rooms. Playgrounds and stadiums were empty. Movie screens were dark. Masks went on, signs went up, and Plexiglas became a constant.

Our year was by April 1, no joke, changed forever.

You may not recall that, as 2019 came to a close, the most hotly debated story of that year was the issue of Martinsville's reverting from a city to a town of Henry County. It was a hot debate, and it sounded like an oncoming war of public policy. But when was the last time you really thought about it?

Both city and county residents stand to be profoundly affected by this change.

2 Christmas Lights 2020

Main Street in Stuart

In the first week of the year, Martinsville Commissioner of Revenue Ruth Easley said she had analyzed reversion and its effects from cover to cover, and, to her, the results were clear: Martinsville is not broke, and a rush to reversion is not necessary and could be borderline irresponsible.

The agenda for Martinsville City Council's end-of-the-month meeting in January stated that council intended to "memorialize" a unanimous decision it made at the end of 2019 to revert from a city to a town:

"Council unanimously voted on December 10, 2019, to begin the reversion process. This resolution memorializes that decision and is requested by the City's legal counsel for the reversion petition and litigation, Troutman Sanders."

So, city council memorialized their own decision at the next regular meeting. Assistant City Manager and City Attorney Eric Monday reasoned that it may offer some protection to the city against three bills that had been filed by state Del. Danny Marshall (R-Danville) that would "give Henry County veto power over the reversion process."

"They are seeking to change the rules once the game has started," Monday said. "It's a belt-and-suspenders approach. If the bills pass, we want it very clear in the event we have to argue [in court] that this process began under the existing 1986 law.

Less than two weeks later a House of Delegates subcommittee killed the bills. Among the three dissenting votes was Del. Charles Poindexter (R-Franklin), who represents part of Henry County.

Hearing that the bills had failed, Henry County Administrator Tim Hall said he was not surprised, because earlier legislative efforts were also unsuccessful.

At the end of July the Henry County Board of Supervisors heard from their legal counsel the case to be made for why the city's reversion request should be denied.

Jeremy Carrol, of Guynn Waddell Carroll & Lockaby in Salem defined reversion as a "partial consolidation."

He explained the procedure begins with the city filing a petition with the state and the the county will be provided the opportunity to file a response.

Other than the city's confirming the petition had indeed been filed, there has been no other public discussion on what both governments expected to be the most explosive issue of the year.

The Warming Center

In 2019 the Salvation Army closed its warming center citing a lack of volunteers as the reason for not being able to continue the service.

On Jan. 1 of 2020 the new Martinsville-Henry County Warming Center officially opened for business at Forest Hills Presbyterian Church on Beechnut Lane among a flurry of new interest and an influx of community support including a roomful of newly recruited volunteers.

The shelter was created to provide food and a warm place to stay to homeless people on nights when the temperature is forecast to drop below 35 degrees.

On opening night, eight people opted for the new warming center to get a meal and a good night's rest.

By the end of the year, coordinators were frustrated with the same issue that plagued the Salvation Army's operation.

We had to turn two guests away," MHC Warming Center coordinators wrote on their Facebook page. "Thankfully we could get them a hotel for the night."

Although the church agreed to provide the space again this year, a lack of volunteers forced the center to close on the first night it was scheduled to be open and coordinators say they lack the funds to send the homeless to hotels for the rest of the winter.

City officer shot

9 Martinsville Police shooting

This Martinsville Police Department officer show inside the ambulance after being shot on Wednesday night has been released from medical care. Officials have not identified him.

This year started out with a bang when, on New Year's Day, Martinsville Police Officer Michael Panos attempted to stop 37-year-old Thomas Braxton, III of Martinsville at the intersection of Memorial Boulevard and Askin Street and ended up in a shoot-out that sent both men to the hospital.

Braxton was arrested a few days later after he was released from the hospital on charges of attempted capital murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and felony elude.

Braxton appeared in court later that month and was promised a court-appointed attorney by Henry County General District Court Judge James R. McGarry, but his case has been mired in a myriad of court delays created by the pandemic.

Braxton has been removed to a regional jail facility, and his attorney later in the year confirmed in Henry County Court he had not been able to see his client because visitation rights had been suspended due to the presence of COVID-19.


Laptops ready to be assigned to students at Martinsville High School. 

Changing classes

11 Schools PPE yearend

Martinsville schools demonstrate their PPE.

At the beginning of the year, Martinsville City Schools started off with a need for new school buses and drivers to drive them, Henry County Schools approved their upcoming school year to begin on Aug. 10, with the fall semester ending Dec. 18 and Dean Gilbert began his tenure as the new superintendent of Patrick County Schools.

"Our job is to educate, and keep students and staff safe while they're here with us," Gilbert said.

Little was he to know the safety of the students and staff would be against a virus that would claim 28 lives and infect 1 in 26 people who live in Patrick County by year's end.

By early March, Martinsville schools were on a roll: For the third consecutive year, all schools in the district were accredited by the Virginia Board of Education.

"The change instituted included shifting the mindset within each school to recognize that success is possible no matter the circumstances," Martinsville School Superintendent Zeb Talley said during a community event at Martinsville High School.

Also in March Patrick Henry Community College announced the first, among all area schools, plans altered by the threat of the coronavirus closing the campus and extending spring break.

5 MHS Graduation

Martinsville graduate T'Coma Clanton waits to receive his diploma during drive-thru graduation processional at the school.

Virginia had 17 presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 at the time. None in the local area.

Upon the announcement in mid-March of a state of emergency by Gov. Ralph Northam, all schools were closed for the remainder of the school year, sports events were canceled, church services were postponed and the effects of the threat of COVID-19 became present in the lives of everyone.

By April, the student feeding program in Henry County Schools began to transition to meals available for pickup at selected schools instead of being delivered to students' homes.

This is being done to "reduce the chances of exposure to the coronavirus for our staff members and our community," Henry County School Assistant Superintendent David Scott wrote in an email.

Martinsville schools also began adapting.

"A lot has occurred," Superintendent Zeb Talley said. "Everything is well. We started off the first week feeding 500 students, now we're up to 800 daily."

Talley explained how students who had internet access had begun to take their classes online and those without internet access were being supplied with laptops with the course material preloaded on them.

Despite the pandemic, Martinsville Schools honored 26 graduating seniors with the district's highest academic honor, the Big M trophy in May.

Because of gathering restrictions, the event became a virtual ceremony that was streamed live on Facebook and YouTube, a practice that would become commonplace in the next few months.

In late May, Martinsville Schools altered the graduation procedure to award 125 graduating seniors their diplomas in a drive-thru graduation ceremony.

By the end of June, Henry County Schools already were waiting for approval from the state to reopen their school buildings on Aug. 10 and allow students back in the classroom on a limited basis while providing distance learning to any student who preferred to stay at home.

Three months later a plan was in place to allow Henry County students to return to school, starting Oct. 12, on a hybrid schedule despite a show of force by teachers at a school board meeting opposed to the idea.

When Henry County schools forged ahead to reopen the school doors in October, it was one to a seat on school buses, socially distanced desks, breakfast and lunches eaten in the classroom instead of the cafeteria and face masks for all. A month later, students were back home as infections surged again.

Patrick County resumed classroom teaching with a hybrid plan similar to Henry County, but Martinsville City Schools have remained steadfast in their commitment to a 100% virtual environment for all students.

"We are still in the hot zone," Talley told the school board at its regular meeting in mid-October. "We are monitoring this every day, but we're not out of the water, and for whatever reason this area is in a hot zone right now."

..Magna Vista senior parade

Elections expand


Entrance to the Henry County Registrar's offices.

Virginia Democrats set the stage in January to make it easier to vote in elections, not realizing the change would make voting possible for many people who might have avoided the polls on Election Day because of the coronavirus.

The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee advanced what essentially became "early voting" a process that allows registered voters to vote early in-person or by absentee in any election without having to provide a reason for voting before Election Day.

By September, the new Virginia voting law had resulted in historic levels of voter participation across the state ahead of the November presidential election.

"This level of requested absentee ballots is unprecedented," state election officials said.

Although the beloved and longtime Henry County Registrar Elizabeth Stone would pass away shortly after the election, her office commanded the new options for casting a ballot early with ease and efficiency.

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Martinsville and Patrick County registrars maneuvered through the adjustments and touted their successes in transitioning to the new early voting methods.

The only locally contested race this year was a draining Martinsville City Council race among five candidates in a three-way race.

In the end, Tammy Pearson, a local business owner, ousted incumbent Jim Woods, while fellow council members Chad Martin and Kathy Lawson were re-elected to another term.

4 Election Day 2020

At the Bassett Rescue Squad Training Center, Suzanne Fuhrmeister (from left), Shirley Jones and Michelle Graham greet people who have come in to vote on Election Day.

Social unrest

In early June, on the sixth day of outrage throughout the United States after a Minneapolis police officer was charged with the third-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of African-American George Floyd, about 200 people gathered at the intersection of Greensboro Road and Rives Road in Henry County to peacefully express their outrage.

"I truly believe the majority of the population did not fully comprehend what we live with until they saw that video. I hate it that George Floyd was a sacrifice, but I think that's what it took to wake America up," said Naomi-Muse, president of the area chapter of the NAACP.

Several hundred people prayed and kneeled in front of Albert Harris Elementary school on Smith Road in Martinsville before they marched to the steps of city hall in what was called a "March on Solidarity."

14 Black Lives Matter protest yearend

Protestors for Black Lives Matter

Henry County Administrator Tim Hall marched with the group and stepped to the microphone on the steps of the city's municipal building.

"You're going to figure out real quick that I'm not a pastor, but I am a believer," Hall said. "I believe we need change."

12 Two sheriffs yearend

Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry (left) and Martinsville Sheriff Steve Draper kneel with protestors.

Bishop James Richardson said it was important that society reaches the point where skin color is not a primary factor in determining how a person is treated by law enforcement.

"The bad apples cannot be excused or covered up," he said. "We are all linked together whether we believe it or not.

"I believe God is saying, 'Pray, get up and do something.'

Father Mark

6 father mark2.JPG

Father Mark White in front of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond.

One minister also looking for change was Father Mark White, who began the year as the Catholic priest of two local parishes, in Martinsville and Franklin County.

Just as the pandemic began to explode throughout the region, White was removed from his post after an unsettling disagreement with his bishop in Richmond, who took exception to White's comments in a popular blog in which he criticized the Catholic Church's handling of sexual abuse cases.

His story quickly spread throughout the state, was picked up by national reporting agencies and ultimately reached the ears and eyes of the Vatican in Rome.

In February, a truce of sorts was forged in Richmond after a meeting with Bishop Barry Knestout, White and a few local parishioners. The agreement required White to cease posting to his blog.

When the pandemic reached Martinsville and communications, including church services, began moving online and to a safe virtual environment, White petitioned Knestout for at least a temporary reprieve and was ignored.

White defied the bishop's order and resumed posting to his blog and promptly was removed as pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Martinsville and St. Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount one day after Easter Sunday.

"Today, I write to inform you that Father Mark White has been removed as Pastor of your two parishes effective this day," Knestout wrote. "He has received a new assignment and will [be] leaving the area within the week."

But White still maintains residency in Martinsville provided by supportive parishioners and is writing a book on the matter he intends to have published.


Healthcare worker Valerie Nolen talks with unidentified patient in simulated COVID-19 test at Martinsville Speedway.

The virus explodes

Sharon Ortiz-Garcia

West Piedmont Health District Epidemiologist Sharon Ortiz-Garcia 

On March 1 there had been no positive coronavirus cases in Virginia and only 62 in the country. Still, Carlisle School canceled a class trip to Italy as the world watched the spread westward from China, where the virus was identified.

"There's been no organized anything yet," said Nancy Bell, population health manager for the West Piedmont Health District.

But by mid-March there were nine reported COVID-19 cases in Virginia, and panic set in at local grocery stores.

"There are no masks in stock, and we're low on water and hand sanitizers," said Michael Regan, store manager of the Kroger on Commonwealth Boulevard.

Food Lion President Meg Ham said, "As you can imagine certain high-demand items, such as household cleaning products may temporarily be out of stock, but we are working as fast as possible to restock our shelves with these items."


Church members in Stanleytown by mid-April had created more than 6,200 masks to be delivered for free.

Residents took to social media, complaining about a run on paper products and other necessary items.

7 kroger_bath_tissue

The bath tissue aisle at Kroger on Commonwealth Boulevard was empty Sunday night

"Unbelievable, Kroger this morning looked like they [forecasters] were calling for a blizzard … out of bread, no toiletries to speak of … and the meats were sparse," wrote Jeff Roop of Martinsville.

Before the month was out, Martinsville and Henry County had declared a state of emergency even though there were still no known cases of the coronavirus locally. But the community responded.

6 COVID-briefing

COVID-19 briefing via Zoom.

First The Harvest Foundation committed $150,000 for an emergency childcare relief fund, and two days later, Bell announced a 60-year-old woman from Franklin County had become the first person in the West Piedmont District to test positive for COVID-19.

After an announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services that the United States had about 1% of face coverings needed if COVID-19 escalated into a pandemic, Sharon Sleeper and her five employees began making masks in her shop that met the requirements for use in hospitals and nursing homes.

March ended with the first person in Henry County, a man in his 50s, having tested positive. The coronavirus was here.

In April we learned to expect to have our temperature checked and be approved after filling out a questionnaire before entering government buildings, drive-through testing began at the Martinsville Speedway funded by a $300,000 donation from The Harvest Foundation and another $146,000 had been received by the local United Way to tool-up the Henry County Food Pantry for distribution of food to those in need.

In May, more than 100 volunteers behind the MHC Emergency Feeding Program gave away 1,650 boxes of food, a 400% increase from numbers before the pandemic.

In May, the seriousness of COVID-19 became a reality to people in Martinsville.

"It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jennifer Horsley. Jennifer passed away earlier today," Young Williams Project Manager Larren Hopkins wrote.

Horsely contracted COVID-19 in an outbreak that had hit the Martinsville call center at the Clock Tower that resulted in six positive cases and the death of Horsley.

Mulberry Creek Nursing and Rehab began to report cases of COVID-19, then Monogram Foods, Bassett Furniture, Blue Ridge Therapy Connection in Stuart and Stanleytown Health and Rehab.

Then by August there were reports of outbreaks at Laurel Park Middle School among staff members, a second wave at Mulberry Creek Rehab, the City Farm and Henry County Jail.

"We're contained within two cells," Sheriff Lane Perry said. Between 15 and 20 men live in a cell.

In September, Janice Plaster Turner, a Patrick County rescue squad member, died of COVID-19, and the administrator and director of nursing at Blue Ridge Therapy Connection unceremoniously disappeared after troubling stories of conditions surfaced there that included dozens of cases of the virus.

As the number of positive cases and deaths continued to rise in the region, the number of small businesses falling into financial distress because of restrictions placed on their operations also grew.

Stories of local Chamber of Commerce champions, bankers and financial advisers were hailed as heroes for helping to save the day by securing Payroll Protection money and funds made available through the CARES Act.

And still, by Thanksgiving, there were churches and organizations throughout the community committing time, energy and resources to feeding those in need and providing Christmas gifts for children of parents who have little or nothing to give.

3 Heroes Parade_RED_8987.jpg

Two children wave to first responders as they arrive at Sovah-Martinsville.

The Harvest Youth Board gave away 2,500 Thanksgiving Eve dinners from the Henry County Food Pantry in Bassett, and Scott Norman is set to provide as many Christmas dinners on Christmas Day as the event known as "Richard's Dinner" continues with modifications to meet the Governor's orders.

By Christmas about 4,000 people in Martinsville and Henry and Patrick counties will have tested positive for COVID-19. There have been 103 who have died with the coronavirus.

Regardless of what you may remember about 2020, historians will record this year as one of face masks and quarantines, sacrifice and selfless heroes.

A year not soon to be forgotten.

12 Two sheriffs yearend

Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry (left) and Martinsville Sheriff Steve Draper kneel with protestors.

1a Martinsville Protest

Jordan Obenour (left) raises a fist in support of Black Lives Matter during a recent demonstration and NAACP membership drive in Collinsville organized by the Martinsville Protest group. Also pictured are Donna Cleaver (center) and Megan Northcutt (far right).

1c Martinsville Protest

Members of the Martinsville Protest group demonstrate recently in Collinsville in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Pictured, from right to left, are Chelsea Frazier, Ben Compson-Lawson, Megan Northcutt, and Donna Cleaver.

..Magna Vista seniors_1

Magna Vista Principal Charles Byrd (front) places a sign at the home of MVHS senior Allison Burnette Friday.

5 MHS Graduation

Martinsville graduate T'Coma Clanton waits to receive his diploma during drive-thru graduation processional at the school.

6 Martinsville Speedway
5 Quiet during the pandemic

Caution tape says no access to playground at Smith River Sports Complex.

Drive-in services at various churches

Mount Vernon Baptist Church has been having drive-in services for a couple of weeks. Pastor Michael Jordan speaks and Jencie Gibson leads music broadcast through a transmitter to people in their cars. Numerous churches are using the approach to celebrating Easter.

15 Father Mark yearend

Father Mark White speaks about his future.

Henry County masks

Deputy County Administrator Dale Wagoner models a new mask emblazoned with a Henry County logo during the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday. The county used a portion of its pandemic relief funds from the federal government to purchase masks and other gear to protect county employees from the spread of COVID-19.

1 Kneeling 3.jpg

Kneeling at March of Solidarity in Martinsville.

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt.


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