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Year in review: COVID-19 spreads to area; shuts down almost everything

On Saturday, March 7, The first COVID-19 case in Missouri was reported in the St. Louis area. It was on Friday the 13th (how appropriate) that Gov. Mike Parson signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency in Missouri. This allowed him to activate the National Guard to help fight the pandemic, among other things.

Following CDC guidelines, Parson also recommended that attendance at public gatherings be limited to no more than 50 people.

The Jackson Police Department modified its responses because of the coronavirus. Officers would still respond to emergencies in person but non-emergency police reports would be taken over the phone. Group tours, public meetings at the police department and non-criminal fingerprinting were suspended.

On Monday, March 16, the Jackson Mayor and Board of Aldermen approved changes in city operations. City Hall remained open for the time being, but surface areas were being disinfected regularly. Parks, playgrounds and the Jackson Civic Center remained open at first. Meetings in the Civic Center that were for groups larger than 50 were cancelled. Municipal Court was cancelled. Jackson suspended utility cutoffs.

The next day, Tuesday, March 17, Jackson R-2 cancelled all classes for March 17-20.

Both Southeast Hospital and Saint Francis Medical Center began screening visitors and limiting services. They also began to offer COVID-19 testing.

Every organization that had upcoming events began canceling them. For example, the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce “postponed” the Jackson Leadership & Development on March 18, the Business Breakfast on March 20, The Women’s Impact Network luncheon on April 9, Business After Hours on April 14, Business Breakfast on April 17 and the annual Golf Classic April 24.

Bingo World closed initially for four weeks and then extended the closure.

Missouri State Parks kept campgrounds open but cancelled all of its planned programs through April 30.

Area government and health officials were proactive in preparing for the pandemic. On Monday morning, March 23, they gave a press conference in the Cape County Administrative Building in Jackson. There were, as of that meeting, no confirmed cases of CO-VID-19 in Cape County.

However, later that day, the first confirmed positive case in Cape County was reported by a commercial laboratory. The individual was a 60-year-old male who was then in isolation.

The next day, Tuesday, March 24, a community-wide coronavirus test collection center was opened in Arena Park as a joint effort between SoutheastHEALTH, Saint Francis Healthcare System, the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center and the City of Cape Girardeau.

Jackson City Hall closed to the public that same day (March 24). Board of Aldermen meetings, beginning April 6, were held virtually.

Many banks and other businesses began closing their lobbies to the public. Fast food restaurants offered meals at their dive-thru windows or by delivery as they closed their lobbies to dine-in customers. Most of those dining rooms remain closed today, more than nine months after they initially closed.

A second confirmed positive case of COVID-19 was reported on the morning of Wednesday, March 25, and a third positive case was reported that afternoon. One of the first three cases was a Jackson resident, so COVID-19 had made its way to Jackson.

On Friday, March 27, Jackson R-2 School District officials announced school would remain closed through spring break with a possible reopening date of April 15.

The County Commissioners on Monday, March 30, declared a public health emergency. Later that evening, 14 positive cases were reported in the county.

On Wednesday, April 1, the County and City of Jackson consolidated their 911 dispatch offices into a new Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch Center.

The City of Jackson and Jackson R-2 School District closed their playgrounds to the public on Saturday, April 4, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The City also closed tennis courts, basketball courts and the skate park.

Beginning Monday, April 6, traffic on I-55 and U.S. Hwy. 61 began having head-to-head traffic at Center Junction, as lane closures were put in place. This was in preparation for construction crews to replace the southbound I-55 bridge.

That same day, Gov. Mike  Parson issued a statewide “Stay-Home-Missouri” order. Missourians were to avoid leaving their homes and avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people. The number of people allowed into stores at one time was limited. Schools were ordered to remain closed.

Cape County had 19 confirmed cases. Five had been hospitalized and three had recovered. Ten of the 19 lived in Jackson.

By early April, the offices of the Uptown Jackson Revitalization Organization moved to 100 N. Missouri Street, utilizing the entrance to the City Hall that once admitted people to the Jackson Public Library.

The April 6 election was postponed to June 2.

The first COVID-19 related death in Cape County was reported on Wednesday, April 8. It was a man in his 80s.

On Thursday, April 9, Gov. Parson ordered Missouri schools to be closed for the rest of the school year.

On Monday, April 20, the City of Jackson was issued an occupancy permit for the new police station. The police department gradually moved in from their old location next door, which was shared with Fire Station No. 1.

The Jackson Mayor and Board of Aldermen met online Monday, April 20, via Zoom. They authorized $3 million in Chapter 100 taxable industrial revenue bonds to finance the construction of a new office building for K-Coe Isom on East Main Street in Jackson. (The building is currently under construction.)

On Wednesday, April 22, Saxony Lutheran High School hired Lance Tollison as the new girls basketball head coach. He had run Cape Central’s program from 2016 to 2018.

On Friday, April 24, Gov. Parson extended the state of emergency through June 15, but he emphasized that it was not an extension of the “Stay Home Missouri” order. Businesses that had closed to stop the spread of coronavirus could reopen on Monday, May 4.

As a result, Jackson City Hall and the Civic Center reopened. The Mayor and Board of Aldermen resumed in-person meetings. However, the Board Room was reconfigured to allow for social distancing and seating was limited. (It remains that way today.)

Oak Ridge High School graduation was postponed from May 8 to June 20. To celebrate the graduating seniors on the original date, there was a parade from the Cape County Cowboy Church to the new Oak Ridge gym parking lot.

Also on Friday, May 8, two B-2 Spirit stealth bombers conducted a flyover to honor medical and healthcare professionals, essential employees and volunteers in their fight against COVID-19. One plane remained high overhead while the other flew low over the rooftops of Saint Francis Medical Center and Southeast Hospital in Cape Girardeau.

On Wednesday, May 13, CBJ Features Editor Elane Moonier announced her retirement after 39 years of working at the newspaper. She continues to volunteer at the Iron Mountain Railway.

Although COVID-19 prevented a public ceremony, Sheriff Ruth Ann Dickerson presented awards individually to her outstanding officers and employees May 13. The Timothy J. Ruopp Award went to Lt. Zachary Dillard. Copeland Excellence Awards went to Maranda Meyer, field operations; Jimmy Bartels, business operations; and Verla Carr, jail operations.

The first hearings were held in the new Cape Girardeau County Courthouse, 203 High St., on Monday, May 18. The $19 million facility replaced the old courthouse that was built in Jackson in 1908 as well as the Common Pleas Courthouse in Cape Girardeau.

On Sunday, May 24, an 11-year old boy named Aiden Kyle rescued 5-year-old Kinsley Stuart from drowning when she disappeared off the low-water bridge in City Park into a flooded Hubble Creek. Kyle was assisted by some other boys named Isaiah Randol, Alex Niedbalski and Eli Kyle.

The incident led to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen to authorize a replacement bridge that would be safer to be built at that spot.

On May 27, the officials at the John J. Pershing Medical Center in Poplar Bluff announced that work had begun on a new VA Health Care Center on Mount Auburn Road in Cape Girardeau, just  north of the SoutheastHEALTH Cancer Center. The 43,000 square foot facility is expected to be completed by 2022.

On May 29, the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce held its 28th annual Golf Classic at Kimbeland Country Club. This event had been postponed, but it did not fall prey to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Voters went to the polls on Tuesday, June 2, and approved a sales tax increase of one-half of one percent to provide law enforcement and public safety services to the county. Millersville voters approved a $900,000 bond issue to build a new fire station. In the one contested Jackson alderman race, incumbent Joe Bob Baker defeated Steven Lee in Ward 4. Oak Ridge R-6 voters approved a tax increase to fund the financially troubled school district.

The June 3 issue of The CBJ reported that Jackson High School cancelled prom for its seniors after it had been postponed from May 2 to June 13. Graduation, postponed from May 15, was set for Friday, June 19.

Saxony Lutheran High School graduated 63 seniors on Sunday, June 2.

Gov. Parson lifted all statewide restrictions from COVID-19 on Monday, June 15.

Also on June 15, Best Western Plus, 3003 Old Orchard Rd., Jackson, opened its doors for business. (A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held three days later, on Thursday, June 18).

On Tuesday morning, June 16, following the governor’s announcement, Jackson reopened its playgrounds and basketball courts for public use.

On Wednesday, June 17, the CBJ reported that American Legion Post 158 cancelled Homecomers for 2020, because of COVID-19. Even though statewide restrictions had been lifted by the governor, it was felt that a big crowd gathering for Homecomers would not be safe.

JHS held a modified graduation for seniors on the school football field Friday evening, June 19. Seniors kept 6 feet apart and visitors were limited.

The next day, Oak Ridge High School graduated 32 seniors.

On Monday, June 22, the Cape Girardeau County Commission began meeting in a courtroom in the old courthouse instead of in its normal setting in the County Administrative Building. This temporary move allowed more room in the Administrative Building to conduct the August primary and November general elections. Although the elections are behind us, the County Collector is now utilizing the space in the Administrative Building, and the County Commission continues to meet in the old courthouse.

(Continued next week.)

Gregory Dullum has worked for The Cash-Book Journal for more than 25 years. Prior to becoming the editor in May 2017, he was production manager, circulation manager and reporter. Before moving to Cape Girardeau in 1988, he was editor of the Saint Louis Park Sailor, a weekly community newspaper in suburban Minneapolis, MN. A native of Minnesota, he returned there after graduating with distinction in 1978 from Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, with a degree in mass communications. His wife, Marie, whom he met in college, is a native of Zalma, a small town in southeast Missouri. They have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. Gregory may be reached at

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