Wisconsin’s year of COVID-19 has featured one milestone after another, many of them disturbing to people in the state and here in the Northwoods.
Here’s a look back at the timeline of how Wisconsin went from COVID-free to a half-million cases, with plenty of tension, confusion, and sickness along the way.
February 5: Wisconsin reports its first case of COVID-19, found in a person who had just returned from Beijing.
March 13: Gov. Tony Evers closes all schools for two and a half weeks.
March 19: Wisconsin reports its first two deaths from the disease.
March 24: Evers orders people to stay at home and nonessential businesses to close as part of his Safer at Home order. It’s not “something I thought we’d have to do. It’s not something I wanted to do. It’s not something I take lightly,” Evers says.
March 27: Oneida County reports its first case of COVID-19.
April 7: Wisconsin conducts an in-person election as more than 400,000 people came to the polls. Evers had tried multiple methods to block or postpone in-person voting, saying large gatherings were too dangerous, but he was ultimately rejected by the Supreme Court. In the election, Joe Biden wins the Democratic presidential primary and Jill Karofsky wins a seat on the Supreme Court.
April 16: Evers closes schools for the remainder of the year.
April 24: Thousands of anti-lockdown protestors gather at the state capitol.
May 13: State Supreme Court decisively strikes down Evers’ stay-at-home order. State Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk) is among the supporters of the court’s decision, saying it upholds individual freedom. “There are people that are scared to death of this. That’s okay. There are people that think this is a hoax. That’s okay. There are people that are in the middle. That’s okay,” she says.
May 21: The first case of COVID-19 is reported on the Lac du Flambeau reservation.
May 26: An Oneida County committee approves a permit allowing Hodag Country Fest to proceed, drawing tens of thousands of people to Rhinelander. But facing pressure from the community, Country Fest changes plans and cancels the event two days later.
July 9: Evers orders state employees to wear masks inside state buildings.
July 16: As case counts continue to rise statewide, WXPR reports that cases in the Northwoods are likely being undercounted. “When we receive notice of a positive test, or any reportable condition, the case report is tagged to the area where they live,” says Dr. Ryan Westergaard during a WXPR forum. WXPR confirms positive cases for many visitors and seasonal residents are being attributed to their home county instead of the Northwoods.
July 21: Wisconsin exceeds 1,000 daily cases for the first time.
July 28: Minocqua cancels its popular Beef-A-Rama event.
July 30: Evers announces a new mandate, requiring everyone age five or older to wear masks in all indoor spaces. A WXPR investigation finds no sheriff’s office in the Northwoods will enforce the mandate, with some calling it unconstitutional. “It’s not a law. That’s part of our opinion about why we believe it violates the Constitution,” says Oneida County Sheriff’s Capt. Terri Hook.
September 4: Several thousand people stream into the Crandon area for the annual off-road races. “We’re not too worried about it. We’re outside and we don’t have anybody with any real health issues so we’re just going to with it and hope it goes good,” says one spectator. The nearby Sokaogon Chippewa Community in Mole Lake had strongly urged cancellation of the races.
September 17: WXPR reports Forest County’s case rate was nearly double that of the next-highest in the state.
September 20: Wisconsin reports its 100,000th COVID-19 case.
October 6: Wisconsin limits indoor gatherings to 25 percent of a building’s capacity, and Evers extends the statewide mask mandate.
October 26: Wisconsin reports its 200,000th COVID-19 case.
November 13: Wisconsin reports its 300,000th COVID-19 case.
December 14: The first vaccines in Wisconsin are given to health care workers.
December 22: The state reaches its peak, reporting 120 COVID-19 deaths in a single day. “As always, our thoughts are with the families and friends who have lost loved ones, especially as you feel this grief during the holiday season,” says Department of Health Services Sec.-designee Andrea Palm.
Early January: Elderly individuals in Wisconsin start getting vaccinated.
January 6: Wisconsin passes 5,000 deaths.
January 8: Wisconsin reports its 500,000th COVID-19 case.
Early February: The state passes 500,000 vaccine doses distributed and case numbers start to gradually drop.
February 4: Despite universal opposition from health experts, the Republican legislature repeals the statewide mask mandate, calling it an unconstitutional overreach by Evers. The governor responds by reinstating it with a new public health emergency and order an hour later. “If the legislature keeps playing politics and we don’t keep wearing masks, we’re going to see more preventable deaths, and it’s going to take even longer to get our state and our economy back on track,” Evers says.
February 5: Evers vetoes a Republican-backed COVID-19 bill, the first legislation of its kind passed in 10 months. Among other provisions, the bill would have prohibited employers from requiring workers to get vaccinated.
February 10: A second variant of the virus, the so-called UK strain, is detected in Wisconsin.
February 22: Wisconsin goes two straight days without a reported COVID-19 death. One day later, though, 33 more people die of the virus.