A year unlike any other - 2020: The year in review

NGS Last Sunrise
Photo by Bob Hembree/Lake Powell Chronicle

I wasn’t looking forward to writing “The Year in Review” for 2020, but it’s a year for the history books. There was a lot more than the pandemic, political battles, and rampant conspiracy theories in 2020. There were spotlights on our ignorance and weaknesses we can learn from. There were a lot of positive notes too. We saw people reaching out to help others. We saw what modern science is capable of when under pressure. Pollution levels declined dramatically. A universal flu vaccine passed its first trial. If approved, annual flu shots will be a thing of the past. And most significant, multiple versions of the COVID-19 vaccines are circulating, and the research should put scientists in a better position for future virus threats.

Here are some of the 2020 mileposts for the Page-Lake Powell area, the good, the bad, the ugly—and through it all, hope and progress.

 

January

Both the Sand Devils and Lady Sand Devils were chalking up victories around the state.

Navajo Generating Station decommissioning began after production ceased on Nov. 18, 2019.

The powerful opioid, fentanyl was taking lives nationally and brought to the forefront when it hit Page.

The Chronicle began covering the novel coronavirus when China blocked overseas travel. At the time, the worry was the loss of Chinese tourism in Page. The virus wasn’t considered a serious threat to the U.S. There were only five confirmed cases, and all had recently arrived from China.

Zhong Nanshan, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and an expert in respiratory diseases, predicted the epidemic would reach its peak in a week or 10 days. By the end of the year, the U.S. reported over 20 million cases of COVID-19 and over 351,000 deaths.

 

February

Mayor Levi Tappan gave his final State of the City address at Courtyard by Marriott. Tappan emphasized the urgent need for housing in Page, and its relationship to recruiting and keeping good teachers. He also spoke of the impact NGS had on Page, not only the financial loss but also the loss of volunteers who helped make Page a better place to live.

Grand Circle Arts Alliance begins working with the city of Page to promote local artists.

Classic Air presents an award to Arizona Department of Transportation employee, Marland Billie for his role in helping crash victims.

An Arizona State University student is the first reported case of COVID-19 Arizona. The student had recently returned from Wuhan, China. Misinformation and conspiracy theories begin spreading at a rapid rate.

The Page Lake Powell Chamber of Commerce mixer was a dinner cruise on Lake Powell. It would be their last group gathering of the year.

Sand Devils win become regional basketball champs and destined for State with 15-3 record.

Four Page High wrestlers win medals at the state championship tourney.

 

March

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and Dr. Cara Christ assure Arizonans they are prepared for COVID-19 as the state begins testing. The following week Christ said, “We would recommend taking those general respiratory illness precautions and act like everyone has it (COVID-19).”  Three weeks later, Ducey acknowledged the state was seeing community spread. On March 11, Ducey declared a state of emergency. Schools were closed and events canceled. On March 30, Ducey issued a “Stay Home” executive order.

Tappan urges the community to stay calm as anxiety builds around coronavirus. Tappan said should COVID-19 impact Page, the city government is prepared and ready.

“The city has remained somewhat silent up to this point as a means to rationally observe what is occurring within our state that may affect our community and be ready to respond appropriately without adding to already mounting fears,” Tappan explained. “This is not to say that the city has not been diligently preparing for a possible outbreak and associated outcomes of widespread infections.” Tappan declared a state of emergency and ordered restrictions for Page the following week.

In the midst of spreading fear over the novel coronavirus outbreak, slot canyon tour operators said the virus that’s causing major upheaval across China poses a low risk to the area. But the Navajo tour operators said they are ready as they can be for a possible local outbreak.

89Forward Business Conference draws about 200 participants to Page Courtyard by Marriott. Scott Swank, president of Page Chamber of Commerce, said conference speakers would deal with how to sustain a business through the peaks and valleys that tourism brings. “Businesses, and especially our tourism, restaurant and hotel businesses, need to be knowledgeable to whether anything that is out of their control – including the coronavirus,” Swank said. “The impact of that is worldwide but it is especially felt in a small economy like ours. This conference will help our businesses learn how to be prepared and sustainable through events like this.”

 

April

Longtime Page resident David Auge filled Mark Cormier’s seat on the City Council. He was chosen from two applicants in a city council executive session. Cormier resigned for medical reasons.

Classic Air Medical Services acquired isopods to safely transport patients infected with COVID-19 and protect their crews.

Page, like thousands of cities in the U.S., rely on sales tax revenue to function. The pandemic, especially in towns relying on tourism, dealt a huge blow to city economies. City administrators knew it was coming and held off as long as they could before sending 27 employees to the unemployment lines. “We could see the handwriting on the wall four weeks ago,” City Manager Darren Coldwell said. “It was a tough decision.”

Board members of the Page Unified School District hired Larry Wallen as the district’s new superintendent. Wallen will take over for Rob Varner, who retired at the end of the school year after serving as PUSD superintendent for the last five years. Wallen officially took over as superintendent July 1.

 

May

Mayor Levi Tappan found himself in hot water over a Facebook comment, and it may have contributed to his losing his bid for reelection later in the year. It started when a Diné woman commented, “He’s busy fighting hard for our people” along with a photo of Nez wearing a mask and gloves and touching the window to greet an elderly woman wearing a surgical mask. Tappan hours later replied to the woman’s post: “I wish he would battle alcoholism as hard as COVID-19” with a photo of a group of Diné sitting under a tree in the town’s breezeway near Blue Buddha Sushi Lounge. Tappan later apologized. “I apologize if I’ve offended people,” said Tappan said in an interview. “My intentions were: We need to work together and not just one side.”

Page Canyonland Healthcare participates in the Arizona Department of Health Services COVID-19 Testing Blitz. This was the first time testing restrictions were relaxed. Because of test kit shortages, testing was previously limited to those who met strict criteria, allowing the asymptomatic or people with mild symptoms to go unchecked.

A rally at Chilchinbeto Church of the Nazarene was the first known super spreader of the novel coronavirus on the Navajo Nation.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s Stay Home, Stay Safe, Stay Connected executive order expired May 15. Ducey’s lifting restrictions met with resistance from the public and medical professionals who questioned the timeline and if the state had met Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria for opening safely. The CDC recommended a 14-day downward trend in COVID-19 cases. The loosely defined recommendations left a lot of room for interpretation.

 

June

Mary Stahl has is named principal at Desert View Intermediate School. She took over for Rich Van Nostrand who retired June 30.

As cities across the country faced violence, looting and destruction over the death of George Floyd. There were several peaceful marches by local citizens in downtown Page.

A 26-year-old Page man was arrested and charged with threatening to burn Page Magistrate Court and the Page Police Department. He tried to rally supporters with a private Facebook group, but was reported to the police.

Page High School held a drive-thru graduation to award diplomas to graduates. Spectators watched from cars and sidewalks.

Sixty-four new, GPS equipped golf carts, including a range cart and a beverage cart, arrived at Lake Powell National Golf Course.

The city of Page begins working with Catholic Charities to address homelessness and substance use disorder problems. Coldwell said the city would provide Catholic Charities with office space, including utilities, in the Page Police Department Substation on South Navajo Drive. He said they have the space, and the utilities are already on, “It’s a no-brainer.”

The Mangum Fire in Kaibab National Forest burned over 71,450 acres. The fire north of the Grand Canyon began June 8. Officials said the fire was “human caused” June 20.

The Canyon Club awarded Kylie Harris and Evan Cambridge each $1,000 scholarships at Grandview Overlook.

First Things First recognizes Amanda Clark as the 2020 First Things First Coconino Region Champion for Young Children. The award is given to local champions who actively volunteer their time to raise public awareness of the importance of early childhood development and health. Champions spend a significant amount of time volunteering with FTF and building public awareness about the importance of early childhood issues.

 

July

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey gave municipalities and counties the nod to enact their own policies to protect their communities from the novel coronavirus. Dozens of cities and counties, including Tucson, Sedona, and Phoenix acted fast to mandate face coverings.

Mayor Tappan joins Coconino County and 90% of Arizona and issues a mask mandate for the city of Page.

The city of Page supplied masks to a grassroots effort led by Sharon Woodard, said Page Mayor Levi Tappan.

“A group of us feel strongly about ‘masking up’ as much of our community, neighbors, and visitors as we can for the health and safety of citizens and viability of keeping Page open to all,” Woodard said. “Our plan is to set up outside of Walmart on July 1st, 2nd, (and the) 3rd in order to especially support the elderly who usually shop at the beginning of each month. We want to hand out masks to anyone who needs one and to provide hand sanitizer to them before they enter the store.”

The city of Page was left with a dilemma over the Fourth of July Fireworks. Ducey said events with over 50 people were prohibited. The city solved the problem by asking people to stay in their cars for the show.

“Page reports 33 new COVID cases” read the July 15 headline in the Chronicle. This was shocking to most people. By the end of the year, the number would increase to 889.

The Neowise Comet lights up northern Arizona skies.

Demolition of the Navajo Generating Station begins again after a four-month suspension.

The Page City Council voted to accept an $864,739 grant from the AZCares Fund. The July 22 vote approves the contractual agreement offered by Gov. Ducey in a May 29 letter to Mayor Levi Tappan. The AZCares Fund distributes funds from the federal CARES Act signed into law March 27, 2020.

 

August

Mayor Levi Tappan extended his July 6, 2020, mask mandate to Aug. 31, 2020. The original proclamation expired Aug. 1.

Desert View Intermediate School hires longtime social studies teacher Kevin Anderson assistant principal.

William R. Diak defeats incumbent Levi Tappan in the mayoral race. Tappan defeated Diak when he was incumbent in the previous election.

Tappan rescinds mask mandate early.

Preston Ross, 11, wins 18-hole U.S. Kids Golf event in Phoenix.

 

September

A historic meeting took place at city hall Aug. 6 to deal with the area’s substance abuse problems. It was a mix of face to face in the council chambers and video conferencing. Coldwell led the meeting that included Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, Arizona Rep. Arlando Teller, Coconino County District 5 Supervisor Lena Fowler, Encompass CEO Joe Wright, and representatives from Banner Health, CareFirst, Catholic Charities, Page Lake Powell Chamber of Commerce, Health Choice Arizona, and Navajo Nation Division of Behavioral and Mental Health Services.

Illusionist-stuntman David Blaine comes to Page. He flies over town suspended from 52 colorful balloons. Blaine floated 20,000 feet above the ground, released himself from the balloons, dove to 7,000 feet, then opened his parachute. He landed safely and on his feet.

Trina Hubbell became principal at Manson Mesa High School, taking over for Mary Stahl who became the new principal at Desert View Intermediate.

Lake Powell National Golf Course had a record turnout for the 2020 Lake Powell Amateur Championship. The weekend event drew 61 golfers from around the region. LPNC golf pro Jake Hunter attributes the tournament’s success to strong local support. Hunter said a big part of the draw is the course itself. The well-maintained course combined with the extraordinary scenic landscape is unmatched.

Mayor Levi Tappan presented the city’s Champions Award to Arizona Rep. Arlando Teller. Tappan also honored Shawn P. McNally, who recently retired from the National Park Service after 27 years.

During a special school board meeting Sept. 28, the Page Unified School District’s school board voted unanimously to move to a hybrid learning model beginning Monday, Oct. 12.

 

October

Runners from 40 states hit the trails in Page for the Lake Powell Half Marathon. The event drew 845 competitors for the 12-mile Rim View Trail run. It was a record turnout for the annual event.

Page Unified School District schools begin training COVID response teams.

The Arizona Department of Transportation begins improving the intersection of U.S. 89 at the entrance to Horseshoe Bend Overlook at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area south of Page.

Construction crews will widen U.S. 89 for a northbound left-turn lane, apply new pavement, and install new signage and pavement markers.

The Page Police Department arrest Kenneth James Sasaki of Page on child pornography charges on

Oct. 14. The 64-year-old man was charged with 10 counts of sexual exploitation.

Page’s new Substance Abuse Task Force met Oct. 21 in the City Council Chamber for the first time. The meeting was chaired by Gwen Lasslo.

Page Hospital honors its Native team members. This year, they highlighted four of their team members: Lavalerie Tsinnajinnie, Danielle Manygoat, Brittany Fat-Denatsosie, and Katelynn Hunt.

As part of its effort to safely return to in-person learning, the Page Unified School District hired Peter Jones as its medical COVID-19 specialist.

Page High School’s cross-country team got an October surprise. They learned there would be sectional, and state meet in 2020.

Demolition crews detonated the original 220-foot smokestacks at the Navajo Generating Station.

 

November

Four Page homes were destroyed by fire in the middle of the night. They were located in the Cypress Avenue area.

Page High School cross-country team’s six-year state title-winning streak came to an end when the Runnin’ Devils placed third at the state meet.

William “Bill” Diak is sworn in as Page mayor and immediately reinstates the city’s mask mandate.

Page Unified School District, in addition to preparing and distributing their usual number of breakfasts and lunches, they prepared and handed out an additional 7,000 meals for families to have during the week of Thanksgiving.

Banner Health reinstates no visitor policy at all Arizona locations

 

December

The remains of a Diné U.S. Marine were escorted home Diné Bikéyah.

The Navajo-Hopi Honor Riders, along with local law enforcement, including the Page Police Department and the Tuba City Police District, escorted the remains of U.S. Marine Sgt. Amron J. Curtis from Greenehaven, near the Utah-Arizona border, to the Curtis family plot near milepost 35 on Coppermine Road, in LeChee, Arizona.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area announced that Colleen Allen, leader of its Aquatic Invasive Species program, received the coveted Director’s Award for Natural Resources.

“Mrs. Allen definitely deserves this national award and recognition for her leadership and efforts in addressing quagga mussel issues,” said Superintendent William Shott. “She has worked tirelessly in developing partnerships with the States of Utah and Arizona and our boating community to contain the quagga mussel infestation to Lake Powell and to prevent its spread to other water bodies.”

A rockslide Dec. 4 sent debris hurtling down a cliff face near Horseshoe Bend.

“Our rangers checked into it from the (Colorado River) below and from above,” explained Mary Plumb, spokesperson for the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the Rainbow Bridge National Monument. “The area where the rock broke away is out of the way.”

She added, “This change is not an enhanced safety issue to the visitor.”

Banner Page Hospital begins vaccinating staff with Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Banner Health’s Page Hospital was awarded the Gold Certification for Excellence in Person-Centered Care by Planetree International.

Page Unified School District approves Page High School basketball and soccer, but no in-person spectators allowed.

The Page Unified School District board voted unanimously to hire Jim Walker as the interim superintendent. PUSD board members during a special meeting Dec. 1 voted to hire Walker to fill in for current superintendent Larry Wallen who contracted the coronavirus.

The three iconic 775-foot stacks of Navajo Generating Station come down. Spectators were all along the eastern side of Page and scattered along Rim View Trail. Long trails of vehicles were parked along State Route 98 on both sides of the NGS entrance. It was the largest 2020 event in Page.

The Page Unified School District announced that Charles Weiss will serve as its new board member. Weiss will replace outgoing board member Ed Franklin, who has served as a PUSD board member since June 2017.

Dr. Diana Hu said, “One out of 10 people on the Navajo Nation has already had coronavirus,” Hu explained in a virtual COVID-19 Update with the Tuba City Service Unit. “But our communities have had more cases and deaths by population totals than elsewhere in the U.S.

“But it’s still not efficient to protect those most vulnerable. If we let 70% of people get sick, we will lose more of our people and that’s not acceptable.”

 

 

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