Impact of COVID-19 top story of year |

Impact of COVID-19 top story of year

2020, a series of unprecedented events

If Nevada County residents were not actors in the dramas that took national stage in 2020, they certainly had front row seats. From police shootings to pandemic politics, fire outbreaks to power shut-offs to vegetation management, Nevada County functioned as a microcosm of in an increasingly polarized United States.

These are the overall Top 5 stories covered by the Union this year:


The Nevada County Public Health Office recorded its first case of COVID-19 on March 16. Since, more than 50% of the deaths caused by the virus in Nevada County have taken place in an extended care facility.

Nevada County residents were quick to learn that the pandemic would affect far more than those with compromised immune systems. Entrepreneurs and local officials offered their own risk assessments, leading to questions about the community’s physical health versus its economic wellbeing.

The issue of public health and the pandemic became political, as some restaurants in the county refused to shut down and faced permit violations. Nevada City Mayor Reinette Senum resigned, or in her own words, “stepped up,” after calling the state’s mask mandate more damaging to the community than beneficial.

Public and private entities operating within the confines of the state’s restrictions navigated unprecedented terrain in pursuit of ever-moving goal posts to keep families fed and businesses afloat amid a shelter-in-place order.

CARES funding allotted by Congress totaled $10 million for Nevada County. The Nevada County Relief Fund offered support in the form of micro-grants to businesses to help them tread water, or transform their business models entirely.

Businesses were charged with coming up with creative solutions to make money amid state-imposed restrictions. Many entrepreneurs turned to technology to replace in-store retail sales or provide curbside pick up.

Per the first shelter in place ordered by Gov. Gavin Newsom on March 19, schools made the quick and challenging transition to distance learning and returned in the fall with a tentative — and optional — hybrid education model in mind. The mixed model did not last for long, as Nevada Joint Union High School District opened up classrooms to half-capacity on Oct. 12, only to “pause” in-person education just over a month later on Nov. 20, citing rising case numbers among students and Nevada County’s re-entry into California’s purple tier. The Grass Valley School District opened classroom doors on Nov. 2, and re-closed them Dec. 14. Grass Valley School District Superintendent Andrew Withers said the district’s Early Childhood Learning Services and Essential Worker Care Program would continue in person, unless ordered by health officials to close.

Amid changing education models and case surges, Nevada County supervisors attempted to mind the education gap by expediting the expansion of broadband access in the region.


On Jan. 1 three local law enforcement officers were involved in the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Gabriel Strickland.

Twenty-five-year old Gabriel Strickland was shot by authorities on Jan. 1.
Submitted to The Union

Officers responded to a call from Squirrel Creek Road, near Adam Avenue, reporting a man wielding a shotgun. When approached, Strickland refused to relinquish what turned out to be a black Airsoft rifle with the orange tip broken off the end.

A toxicology report conducted after the shooting revealed Strickland was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of his death.

Ten months after the shooting, the Nevada County District Attorney’s Office found the officers’ actions “clearly reasonable and legally justifiable under the circumstances.”

The report on the case, authored by Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh, describes Deputies Brandon Tripp and Taylor King and Detective Brian Hooper firing a combined 13 shots. Strickland’s autopsy determined the cause of death to be multiple gunshot wounds, but listed methamphetamine intoxication as a significant contributing factor.


Incidents between Black Lives Matter protesters and police officers came to a head more than once since the country erupted with race-related demonstrations on June 1.

During a Back the Blue rally on Saturday, Aug. 8, authorities allege that 21-year-old Jace Samuel Manoguerra shot an Airsoft gun at people attending a Back the Blue rally at Neal and South Auburn streets. No one received serious injuries, though several people were struck, including a juvenile.

Manoguerra turned himself and his weapon in shortly after the incident.

A day later, violence ensued after counter-protesters showed up at a Black Lives Matter protest in Nevada City.

James Smith, 40, was arrested on allegations that he body slammed one person and threw him to the ground, as well as forcibly took a cell phone from another person over the course of an hour-long Black Lives Matter demonstration in Nevada City, Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh said.

James Smith, 40, is scheduled for an evidentiary hearing in Nevada County Superior Court on Jan. 28.

Randy Matheson and Joseph Alves, both 48 and from Grass Valley, were charged with misdemeanor battery in connection with the demonstration in Nevada City.

All three defendants have pleaded not guilty.


The Jones Fire began Aug. 17 via lightning strike. By the time the fire was extinguished on Aug. 29, it burned 705 acres and 21 structures.

California State Parks confirmed all Independence Trail flumes within the Jones Fire’s perimeter, including the iconic ramp up to Rush Creek and the largest Rush Creek ramp flume, were destroyed.

Over the course of the burn, 4,000 residents were evacuated.

The remaining 20 fires that made up the North Complex Fire continued to rage until early September.

Essential structures lost in the Jones Fire — including the wooden flumes, overlook platform, benches, handrails and the Rush Creek Ramp — will be revisioned.
File photo


Democrat Audrey Denney beat U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa within county lines, but conservative support from other counties within California’s 1st Congressional District gave the Republican incumbent the win.

Similarly, Nevada County chose Democrat Brynne Kennedy over incumbent Tom McClintock to represent California’s 4th Congressional District. Republican McClintock took the win, with support from neighboring counties.

In local races, Nevada City added a new councilman, and Grass Valley saw two new members join its council.

Races for spots in three Nevada County Board of Education areas likely were the most contentious. Two slates of candidates battled for four seats in three districts, with Susan E. Clarabut and Louise B. Johnson, J. Timothy May, and Julie Baker ultimately winning.

After Grass Valley voted to approve Measure N, the city and its new City Council are looking to approve cannabis businesses in the area and increase tax revenue.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at

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