With the extremely contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus spreading across the country, the pandemic remained a top concern for Virginians as they prepared for gatherings during the holiday season.
Looking back to late spring and early summer, the light at the end of the tunnel started getting brighter as a growing number of Virginians became fully vaccinated. But in July, the arrival of the delta variant put a damper on hopes that the pandemic was nearing its end.
As the year came to a close, the omicron variant became the dominant strain across most of the country. Though omicron is more contagious, scientists are still uncertain whether the strain causes more mild or severe disease than past variants of the virus.
By late spring, almost all COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in Virginia. The District of Columbia took a more cautious approach, waiting until November to lift its indoor mask mandate. But then D.C. officials reinstated the mandate in mid-December when the omicron variant started to spread across the region.
Patch articles about the pandemic and its impact on schools and businesses were among the most-read in 2021. Here are the top pandemic articles of the year, along with other top news items in Virginia.
COVID Vaccines Become More Widely Available
The first available COVID-19 vaccines were given to health care workers and residents of senior living facilities. As the year progressed, larger groups of people became eligible to get the vaccine. By November, children under 12 had a vaccine that could be safely administered to them.
COVID-19 Mask Mandates
As the COVID-19 vaccine became available to more Virginians, Gov. Ralph Northam removed capacity limits and social distancing restrictions by May. The governor also eased mask mandates by early summer.
More Contagious COVID-19 Variants
Positive cases of COVID-19 in Virginia started to rise again in Virginia in July as the delta variant spread across the state. The number of delta variant cases peaked in September. As delta variant cases started to wane, a new variant first detected in South Africa, omicron, spread like wildfire across the nation.
Storming The Capitol
As protesters supporting President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Gov. Ralph Northam sent Virginia National Guard members and 200 Virginia state troopers to DC and issued a curfew for Arlington and Alexandria. In the days and weeks after the storming of the Capitol, several residents of Virginia were arrested and charged with varying offenses related to the event.
Pipeline Cyberattack Causes Gas Shortages
Long lines formed at gas stations across Virginia and D.C. in May after a cyberattack caused Colonial Pipeline to shut down its petroleum products pipeline. Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency on May 11 to address gasoline supply disruptions across the state due to the cyberattack.
Year Of The Cicada
Billions of cicadas emerged across parts of Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. in May and June. While most cicadas have 13-year life cycles, Brood X was one of several periodical cicadas that emerge from the ground every 17 years. By late July, after the cicadas had stopped making shrieking sounds, residents started feeling the bites of oak leaf mites. The microscopic mites were feeding onproduced across the region and dropping out of trees.
As part of the state's reckoning with its Confederate past and history of racism, several jurisdictions in Northern Virginia changes the names of schools and highways and took inventory of Confederate symbols.
New Police Chiefs
The two largest jurisdictions in Northern Virginia swore in new police chiefs. In D.C., the U.S. Capitol Police hired a long-time law enforcement chief to serve as the permanent head of the department in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
In 2021, Patch reported on many examples of residents showing great courage in the midst of tremendous adversity. One article was about James Shahryary, who suffered a stroke soon after he was born two years ago, causing serious health issues. The unwavering support from his parents is helping James get treatments and therapies even when insurance cannot cover the costs.
20 Years Since 9/11
Twenty years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, residents across the region remembered the people who were killed on that terrible day. D.C. police officer Steven Griffin shared his memories of responding to the 9/11 attack at the Pentagon with his son, Patch editor Liam Griffin.
The 18.8 inches of rain from June through August marked the second-wettest summer of the past decade and the 11th-wettest summer on record, according to the Capital Weather Gang. It was 7.04 inches wetter than the most recent 30-year average of 11.78 inches. The final three months of the year turned out to be drier than normal, although a weather system and high tide in late October caused the worst tidal flooding since 2003's Hurricane Isabel in some Virginia localities.
Parents vs. School Boards
Northern Virginia was ground zero for the nation's battle by conservative groups against the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools. Parents and community members held regular rallies in Loudoun County opposing the school system's curriculum and transgender policy. Community members in Fairfax County rallied for the banning of certain books in school libraries, an issue adopted by the campaign of Glenn Youngkin, who won election for governor in November.
GOP Sweeps Statewide Offices
Republican Glenn Youngkin, a political unknown in January, pulled off an upset victory against Terry McAuliffe in November's gubernatorial election. Republicans also won the lieutenant governor and attorney general races and reclaimed a majority in the Virginia House of Delegates.
More Metro System Woes
Brighter days were on the horizon for D.C. Metro as the transit system completed station and rail upgrades. Nearly four years ago, Virginia agreed to provide Metro with dedicated funding on an annual basis to help with infrastructure upgrades and other needs. The American Rescue Plan provided Metro with funds to avoid service cutbacks during the pandemic. The infrastructure bill, signed into law in November, earmarked $150 million annually for WMATA through fiscal year 2030. But then a Metro train derailment in October forced the transit system to remove its new 7000-Series trains from service, causing another new headache for Metro riders in the D.C. area.
Virginia Serial Killer
In December, Fairfax County police alerted residents to a serial killer. The person who the police suspected of killing several women was already in behind bars in Harrisonburg. Dubbed the "Shopping Cart Killer," the police are seeking the public's help in determining whether the suspect has killed more than the four victims found so far.