Look Back: 10 Big Headlines from Right Before COVID Shut NJ Down
It was 18 months ago Friday, on St. Patrick's Day, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, that the last New Jersey schools that remained giving lessons in person filled their classrooms. The next day, New Jersey plunged into a shutdown the likes of which none of its residents had ever experienced before.
Although many of those closures have long been reversed, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to dominate much of the media landscape in the last year and a half. But other topics of national and worldwide interest also shaped this moment in history: the killing of George Floyd, the 2020 election and Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan to name a few.
The coronavirus crisis hit so suddenly and so fiercely that it may be difficult to remember some of the things that were happening in New Jersey, and elsewhere when everyone went into isolation. But some of those stories still have yet to be fully written.
March 10, 2020
"The U.S. military says it has begun withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. It's a step forward on the Trump Administration's peace deal with the Taliban. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also praised the Afghan president for promising to stop dragging his feet on a Taliban prisoner release..."
The withdrawal concluded in August 2021 under the administration of President Joe Biden — but that doesn't nearly summarize it. The city of Kabul fell quickly to the Taliban as a mass evacuation began on Aug. 15, and a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport 11 days later killed 13 U.S. servicemembers.
"A vigilante focused on rooting out child predators in New Jersey by shooting his own undercover videos and posting them to YouTube was warned not to do it again, but he did it anyway. Rashawn Bass used Facebook Live to livestream his initial encounter with a man he says showed up to meet a teenage girl..."
March 11, 2020
On this date, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Actor couple Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced they had tested positive. An NBA game between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder was canceled just prior to tipoff when Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive. The NBA and NHL seasons and MLB spring training were all suspended within 24 hours.
"Many New Jersey towns have gone ahead with their own plastic bag bans. Not willing to wait for lawmakers in Trenton to decide on a statewide law, middle school students in Howell are pushing for a local ban, and attempting to convince officials and other residents that it's crucial..."
Gov. Phil Murphy signed statewide plastic and styrofoam restrictions into law in November 2020, effective May 2022.
"Before you hop on Tinder or Bumble to find a date, you may want to know that New Jersey is the 19th-most dangerous state for online dating in 2020..."
Of course, the face of online dating was about to change in the era of quarantining and social distancing.
March 12, 2020
"Gov. Murphy says he is feeling good, though not 100%, after surgery to remove a tumor on his kidney ... His doctors presume it's cancer."
Murphy had the procedure in early March, and those attuned to COVID news from the very beginning may remember his office's earliest briefings were presided over by Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver.
"Harvey Weinstein has been sentenced to 23 years in prison after he pleaded for mercy in the landmark #MeToo rape case. Weinstein was convicted last month of raping a woman in a New York City hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on another woman at his apartment in 2006..."
The disgraced movie mogul, who contracted COVID-19 early in his prison term, still faces separate but related charges in Los Angeles.
March 13, 2020
"Atlantic City officials want a judge to order the demolition of a shuttered casino once owned by President Trump, but its (current) owner says he has already decided to tear it down..."
Trump Plaza was one of five Atlantic City casino closures in 2014, then sat dormant until the demolition pledged by Carl Icahn began in the summer of 2020. What remained of the building was imploded in February 2021.
March 16, 2020
"In their first one-on-one debate of the Democratic presidential campaign, Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders faced off Sunday night in what could be a clarifying moment in the race..."
Trailing Biden badly after a number of early primary defeats and with campaigning essentially ground to a halt due to COVID lockdowns, Sanders dropped out of the race on April 8, 2020, leaving him as the runner-up for the Democratic nomination for the second consecutive election cycle.
March 17, 2020
COVID protocols and shutdown announcements were providing the overwhelming majority of our news content by this time, but at least two other stories continued to hold our attention.
"Sayreville Board of Education President Kevin Ciak has resigned, a month after it was revealed a district teacher was charged with sexually assaulting a student in Ciak's home. Ciak says he allowed middle school teacher John Denuto to move in with him when Denuto lost his home..."
"A Wall Township man will spend 10 years in prison for beating his 15-month-old son ... But 23-year-old Austin Meli has yet to stand trial for the murder of his newborn daughter, also by abuse."
Meli was indicted in connection with the girl's death in May 2021.