One year ago today, Charlottesville leaders gathered for what would be their final in-person meeting before a yearlong shutdown.

A new disease, a novel coronavirus, was swiftly spreading across the globe. On that day, there were only 17 confirmed cases in Virginia and it hadn’t yet been identified in what is now the Blue Ridge Health District. But health officials knew it was only a matter of time.

With little guidance (that was constantly changing), local governments and institutions, health care systems, businesses and individuals did what they could to prepare for what was then a relatively unknown situation.

A year on, the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the country — and Charlottesville is no exception. Governments and schools have struggled to continue functioning in unprecedented times; businesses have fought (and sometimes failed) to stay open; and the health care system has battled to simply stay afloat.

This story is far from over. The pandemic is still a part of our lives and will likely continue to be for months — if not years — to come.

But on this one year anniversary — as marked by the city government’s vote to suspend all in-person activities — we pause to reflect on the global pandemic that has upended all our lives.

How Charlottesville’s health care system handled its toughest year in recent history

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Medical professional from Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital prepare to administer COVID-19 tests at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center.

It was one year ago that local leaders gathered for their final in-person meeting before government business went virtual.

Four days later, the first Charlottesville resident tested positive for COVID-19.

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Pandemic amplifies educational inequities

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An empty classroom stands ready at Walker Elementary School.

Credit: Mike Kropf/Charlottesville Tomorrow

When Charlottesville City and Albemarle County Public schools braced for indefinite closures as the COVID-19 pandemic approached, Shantisha Allen’s first emotion was panic.

A mother of four children – three of whom attend city schools – Allen estimated her family’s transition to online schooling would last just a few weeks. But then weeks gave way to months — and months to nearly a full year of virtual learning.

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COVID-19 forces changes to local government

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Charlottesville City Hall

Credit: Mike Kropf/Charlottesville Tomorrow

Although COVID-19 upended city services and sent numerous functions online, Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker said in an interview that it is no excuse to defer conversations on equity.

“A major challenge I see at this point is that, as usual, equity is pushed to the back burner,” Walker said.  “It needs to be a top priority at all times and not just when Charlottesville is in the headlines, and our budget needs to reflect that.”

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Businesses buffeted by the pandemic

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Shaun Jenkins stands outside of his restaurant, Soul Food Joint, nearly a year after it opened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Credit: Charlotte Rene Woods / Charlottesville Tomorrow

Shaun Jenkins planned to open his restaurant and catering eatery, Soul Food Joint, just off the Downtown Mall in the spring of 2002. He didn’t plan to open amidst a pandemic that negatively impacted much of his industry.

Once operating as a walk-up window and sharing space with The Salad Maker at 300 E. Market St., Jenkins bought out the space in February 2020. Weeks later, however, the world drastically changed. Despite the negative impacts on the hospitality industry from COVID-19, Jenkins considers himself lucky to have been learning as he went instead and took his time opening up properly.

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