Taking a look back at the biggest stories of the year is usually like taking a magic carpet ride with Steppenwolf. Here in 2020, however, it feels more like taking a midnight swim through shark-infested waters.

Words and phrases like “coronavirus,” “social distancing,” “super-spreader event” and “new normal” became commonplace as the world faced its largest pandemic since the Spanish flu 100 years ago.

While 2020 will undoubtedly go down as one of the worst years ever in the memories of those who experienced it, not everything that happened was doom and gloom.

Below is a compiled list of 10 of the most-read stories published by The News Courier throughout the year. Articles will include the date of publication.

COVID-19

You cannot mention 2020 without a long look at coronavirus and its effects. After all, the disease completely changed the landscape in a way no one living had experienced before.

It began March 13, when The News Courier published an article titled “COVID-19 case confirmed in Limestone County.” That positive test would prove to be the first of many.

At the time, the Alabama Department of Public Health would not confirm a name, age, gender or any other identifying information on who the first positive case in the county was, causing speculation to run wild in the community.

When COVID-19 struck the United States, many dominos fell, as far as aftereffects were concerned. Another well-read story from March 20 was when Walmart, Publix and Dollar General each posted revised store hours, with Walmart no longer being open 24 hours a day. It still isn't in Athens.

Dollar General and Publix each announced the first hour open of each day would be set aside for seniors to shop, as they represented the most susceptible age group to coronavirus.

The Athens Walmart reduced hours to 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Publix and Dollar General also reduced operating hours.

Whether a person believed that pandemic was as severe as reported or believed it was blown out of proportion, the potential consequences of becoming infected with coronavirus have remained clear.

Take the article from July 15, “Tanner pastor speaks out after 3 members die from COVID.” Pastor Jason Greene of Tanner United Methodist Church spoke of losing two female members, along with one of their husbands, to COVID-19. The married couple passed away within days of each other.

"They had deep, deep roots in that community, and I think their deaths ... I think it just took the community and church by surprise," Greene said at the time.

On a more positive note, the spread of coronavirus gave some people more of a sense of unity and camaraderie, as different groups worked together to collectively make it through tough times.

For instance, a March 14 article told of how Charter and Comcast would be offering free internet plans in response to COVID-19. Though there were some caveats, for 60 days, both companies made internet more available to aid residents.

"As the country works collaboratively to contain this pandemic, broadband internet access will be increasingly essential to ensuring that people across the country are able to learn and work remotely, that businesses can continue to serve customers, and that Americans stay connected and engaged with family and friends," a release from Charter said at the time.

Itching for good news

Though concerns surrounding the pandemic had permeated everyday life, not all of the stories that came out this year were about negative subjects. Or, in the case of Master Gardener and columnist Kipp Irland, only negative to her given a bad personal experience.

With much of the daily talk on coronavirus, readers seemed to view a column from Irland published April 6 as a welcome reprieve. The column, “Identifying and treating poison ivy, oak and sumac,” part of the weekly “One Gardener to Another” series, ended up the only column on the top 10 list and the second-most read story of 2020.

Irland told how she once spent eight weeks recovering from a nasty rash after removing a large quantity of poison ivy from some trees without realizing what she was handling. She then went on to describe poison ivy, oak and sumac in detail so that others might be spared her uncomfortable predicament.

Another well-read article from July 18 gave an account of Limestone native Tommy Mitchell uncovering a century-old (if not more) pottery kiln at his property off Tillman Mill Road near Big Creek.

After searching for several years after finding many shards of pottery on the property, the kiln was finally located in an area of pastureland. Mitchell actually let the find sit for five years before finally deciding on how best to uncover it.

A handful of articles from July 18–29 proved to be great news for folks who were ready to be out of the confine of their homes and horrible news for those worried about the spread of coronavirus. Kissell Entertainment announced it would set up a carnival at the Limestone Sheriff Rodeo Arena, and The News Courier's comment section on Facebook exploded.

Many readers admonished the City of Athens for allowing the carnival. So much, in fact, that a follow-up article had to written explaining the arena was outside of city limits.

While many commenters loathed the idea, others were happy to find some entertainment to kill the quarantine monotony. When the carnival finally opened, it ended up doing so well that Kissell decided to stay at the arena an extra week.

Business as usual

Several of the most-read stories this year revolved around business. When The News Courier broke the news Oct. 22 that Buc-ee's might be building its third travel center across Alabama in Athens, readers took notice.

The center would be located on the southeastern corner of the Huntsville-Browns Ferry Road and Interstate 65 intersection. According to a public notice submitted by the City of Athens, Buc-ee's Athens is anticipated to bring about 170 new jobs, around 53,000 square feet of retail space and serve as a $35-million investment into the Athens-Limestone area.

"This is a game-changer for us," Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks said at the time.

Speaking of business growth, the article from Dec. 10 titled “Time frames announced for completion of new Publix, Circle K” finally gave an answer to when the old Kmart is expected to open as Athens' second Publix location.

The old Kmart will be demolished during the first quarter of 2021, with construction on the new Publix expected to be complete by early 2022. The new Circle K is expected to be open next summer and will sit near the new Publix on U.S. 31.

The final most-read story on our list just barely squeaks into 2020. Published Dec. 26, “New cafe opening on Alabama 99” told of new restaurant Mike's coming near Tillman Mill Road between Athens and West Limestone. Within a week, the story had earned a third of the online page views for The News Courier's top story of the year, and the numbers continue to climb.

The restaurant will be open 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and customers can dine in, take their food to go or enjoy their meal in the outdoor dining area. Mike plans to offer a full country breakfast, hamburger steaks starting at 11 a.m., a variety of ice cream dishes throughout the day and a special dinner item each night.

The cafe is expected to open in January.

Other highly-read articles this year concerned things like crime, trials, wrecks and deaths. The News Courier has elected to omit those items from this list, as some have already been mentioned in other year-end articles.

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