WILLCOX— In a year surrounded by uncertainty and constant change, Willcox faced challenges, yet managed to fill its calendar with events symbolic of the city’s quality of life.

Willcox Unified School District was hit the hardest as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as both the middle school and high school experienced positive cases of the virus prior to the Nov. 5 school board meeting. Despite strong recommendations from county health officials, the school board unanimously voted to keep both schools open.

That decision delayed the inevitable.

Willcox Middle School was shut down by the board on Nov. 9, as positive cases of COVID-19 continued to rise within the school. The school was targeted to reopen to in-person instruction on Nov. 30, but the school board decided to shut down all of schools on Dec. 10 due to a “high rise in COVID-19 cases in the Willcox community and the subsequent increase in close contacts due to those positive cases.”

“We are planning for school to resume in-person on January 4, 2021, using the alternating A/B schedule,” according to a post on the Willcox Unified School District Facebook page.

In addition to Willcox Unified’s closures, local businesses in Willcox faced the challenge of less people leaving their homes at the onset of the pandemic and new protocol for how to run their day to day operations.

“The beauty of living in a small, rural community has been so evident in 2020,” said Mary Peterson, president of Willcox Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture.

Willcox met the challenges of the pandemic and sought to unify the city in the form of alternative events to those traditionally done.

One of those was the Christmas Craft Fair and Lighted Parade, that took place on Dec. 12.

In years past Willcox has hosted a lighted parade after the tree lighting ceremony is over with, but this year the city decided to do things a little bit differently.

Mayor Mike Laws spoke to a small socially-distanced crowd of onlookers from a table located just outside the Rex Allen Stage after the lighted parade started with the colors of the flag being presented by a local youth color guard and Willcox singer Lena Teeters performing the National Anthem.

This was followed by three Christmas trees lighting up across the street in order to kick off the annual lighted parade.

Six-feet markers were set up along historic Railroad Avenue, where floats containing everything from the Grinch to Rudolph marched in a festive manner before stopping in front of judges. The parade’s emcee briefly interviewed contestants about their float and its performers.

Earlier in the day a craft fair had taken place in Railroad Park where vendors were selling handmade gifts, local crafts and delicious treats. A performance by Encore Dance Studio and local volunteers performing the Nativity scene took place.

Willcox Wine Country presented locals and visiting wine enthusiasts with an alternative event to its annual Fall Wine Festival by allowing participants to visit Railroad Park for a free festival featuring craft and artisan vendors, but no vineyards. Those who attended the free festival in the park and purchased a separate ticket were invited to participate in a poker promotion. Contestants picked up cards, with the best five-card poker hand winning the top prize. Smaller prizes were awarded for second through fifth place.

Businesses kept seeking answers for success.

Three local vineyards, Golden Rule, Strive and Copper Horse, sharing the Willcox Commercial Building space as a tasting room, have attempted to draw foot traffic while seeing an increase in online/by-mail sales.

Despite the pandemic, they see locals stopping in to try and then later buy the wine that they have available, even if there are less visitors to Railroad Avenue.

As a vaccine is finally becoming available, Northern Cochise Community Hospital in Willcox is continuing to make daily adjustments in its attempts to battle the coronavirus.

“This year has been a challenge for Northern Cochise Community Hospital, as it has been for most healthcare facilities,” said Ainslee Wittig, community relations director for NCCH.

“NCCH, like other hospitals, had to prepare our hospital for an outbreak of COVID-19, which our staff worked on for much of the year. Examples include preparing rooms with protective measures for patients and employees, including setting up a COVID area, and purchasing some needed equipment to help in the treatment of COVID patients. NCCH was grateful to receive grant funds to help with some of these accomplishments.

“NCCH saw its first COVID-19 patients in March, and since November, we have had COVID patients steadily. In our 2,039 square-mile hospital district, NCCH positivity rates for COVID-19 since the start of November have fluctuated from 19 percent up to 27 percent.

“While you enjoy ringing in the new year, please remember to thank a health care worker, as they are affected physically and emotionally.”