This is what we think we can say about 2021:
The beginning is going to be far worse than the beginning of 2020.
The end has a chance to be far better.
Between that beginning and that end, worlds of uncertainty cloud the horizon.
As 2020 dawned, not a single person in Chandler and throughout the East Valley had died or been sickened by a terrible disease we were only beginning to hear about.
As it ended, the pall of death and anxiety cast upon communities by COVID-19 was palpable, with some families literally torn to shreds.
And as 2021 begins, there is hope that some semblance of normalcy will begin to return as science does for a stricken nation what its political leaders could not – and in some cases would not – do in the face of the worst pandemic in more than a century.
For now, we do know that COVID-19 will not magically melt away with the turn of the calendar.
We know, for example, that there won’t be any Rock ’n’ Roll marathon here in January. That and other events already have been knocked out by the disease.
But will there be a Cactus League season? Will crowds return to the East Valley’s array of cultural and performing arts centers? What about the movies? Will graduates get to walk the stage? Will we stop fighting about masks? Can we ever pack a restaurant again?
At this point, with the pandemic raging unabated during the North American winter, such things seem a long way off.
And for many, COVID-19 is not just a question of going out for Friday night pizza. For them – our neighbors, our friends, our grandparents – COVID-19 in 2021 will be a matter of existence or nonexistence.
Already in December, vaccines were beginning to arrive. With them came painful decisions about who should get them first, and how, and at what cost.
The degree to which 2021 becomes a better year than 2020 depends greatly on the vaccines’ efficacy and the willingness of sufficient numbers of people to accept them. Recent studies have suggested that resistance to vaccines is disproportionately higher in the East Valley than in other regions, a potential complication in efforts to create a post-COVID-19 world.
Resistance to precautions such as face masks has been strong in the region. For example, two of the region’s major political players – Republican Congressman Andy Biggs and Republican state Senator-elect Kelly Townsend – have cast doubt on masks’ effectiveness. Townsend already has said she will defy state Sen. President Karen Fann’s directive that when the legislative session begins Jan. 11, anyone with business in Senate buildings must wear a mask.
As all that plays out, there are various other events that we can predict with reasonable certainty for the coming 12 months.
No special prognosticative power is required. It is simply the norm for an East Valley still under construction, and in a post-election year where we now get to see the results of the most recent ballot-box decisions.
Assuming the course of COVID-19 remains the one great unknown – that no other life-rattling shocks are in store – here’s a look at what does seem to be on tap for the city and the region in 2021:
Chandler City Council will have its first Black woman member and two Black members altogether as Christine Ellis and OD Harris take their seats.
Chandler is in the early stages of forming a list of public-works projects to be presented in a bond election tentatively scheduled for Nov. 2.
East Valley cities will receive the results of the 2020 U.S. census. These numbers will be used to redraw congressional and legislative district boundaries and, in the case of Mesa, City Council districts.
The 2021 session of the Legislature is set to begin eight days from now and Chandler’s six delegates have vowed to make pandemic-related issues a top priority – including more aid for K-12 education and for struggling businesses.
A four-year construction project to widen Interstate 10 from just north of the Salt River to Loop 202 in Chandler is scheduled to begin in the summer.
A major highway will take shape in southeast Mesa as the state builds the first phase of State Route 24 from Ellsworth Road to Ironwood Drive. Construction will end in 2022.
Chandler Public Schools will open a large high school in the fall on Gilbert Road south of Ocotillo. Major road work on Gilbert Road will accommodate the new school.
After years of planning and construction, streetcars will be deployed in downtown Tempe, with testing to begin early in the year.
The Women’s and Children’s Pavilion, a 378,000-square-foot addition to Dignity Health Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, will begin accepting patients in the spring. The center is in partnership with Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
Also this spring, Chandler Regional Medical Center will begin seeing patients in its latest tower, which adds 96 beds and brings the hospital’s total to 429.