Here for a Year: The Impact of COVID-19 on Our Lives

COVID-19 has impacted our lives for a year now.

We've lost loved ones, found a new appreciation for the outdoors, and worked through the struggles of a more virtual and remote lifestyle.

Businesses learned to adapt, the government went back and forth on restrictions, and we're in the middle of one of the greatest vaccination efforts of our lifetime. 

WXPR spoke with business owners, tribal leaders, medical experts, and people whose lives have been upended by the pandemic. 

Follow this link to listen to the special report

Iron Mountain VA Medical Center

The vaccination effort happening in Wisconsin and across the U.S. is key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the recent approval of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, the U.S. has now approved three vaccines in the fight against the coronavirus.

WXPR’s Katie Thoresen spoke with Dr. William Hartman about the vaccines available, why he calls them medical marvels, and how they can bring an end to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

In March last year, schools and businesses shut down.

Governor Evers ordered us to stay at home.

We put on masks, social distances, and washed our hands more than ever.

It’s been a full year since many of our lives changed dramatically around COVID-19.

WXPR is looking back on that year and looking forward to what lies ahead.

Listen below to the WXPR Special Report: “Here for a Year: The Impact of COVID-19 on Our Lives.”

Wisconsin National Guard

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.

Katie Thoresen/WXPR

Some changes within the Sokaogon Chippewa Community in Mole Lake are more obvious that others.

To get into the recently reopened casino you have to get your temperature taken and answer some screening questions.

A giant marquee in town encourages people to get a COVID-19 test at the SCC health clinic if they need it.

Other changes, like newly installed fiber optic cables for better broadband, can’t be seen on the surface.

But all the changes are a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wisconsin Department of Administration

Heading into 2020, the nation planned to give Wisconsin plenty of political attention.

It promised to be one of the most contested swing states in the presidential race.

But the pandemic put Wisconsin politics on display for an additional reason.

Partisan tensions in Madison grew even deeper as Republican lawmakers fought Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ COVID management plans at seemingly every turn.

Katie Thoresen/WXPR

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented.

In the North Central Region of Wisconsin, unemployment skyrocketed from 3.8% in March to 13.5% in April 2020 right after the Safer at Home order first went into place.

While the unemployment rate in our region has mostly recovered, people are still feeling the impact. Among businesses hardest hit are those in the leisure and hospitality industry.

Pam Murphy owns Tilly’s Coffee Shop in Downtown Rhinelander.

The past year struck a devastating blow to industries across Wisconsin.

Many restaurants and hotels saw their revenue reduced by at least 25 percent since pre-COVID days.

Movie theaters crumbled without the regular release of Hollywood hits.

Tribal casinos shut down for months, costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

But in a year with so much loss, at least one area saw significant gains – outdoor recreation.

Since scientists and health care workers first learned about the novel coronavirus, a lot has changed.

We now know much more about how COVID-19 is spread, and how to treat and prevent the virus.

We spoke with an epidemiologist and an associate professor of population health sciences at University of Wisconsin-Madison about a year of studying COVID-19.

Listen to the full conversation here.

Department of Workforce Development

The economy in North Central Wisconsin is slowly recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

After unemployment peaked in April at 13.5 percent it finished the year at about 5.5 percent.

Mitchell Ropp is a regional economist for the Department of Workforce Development.

He says nothing has impacted the economy like the pandemic has.

“The impact was felt very quickly from this, but we also have recovered a good portion of what was hit relatively quickly overall. It’s definitely different in its nature,” said Ropp.


Former President Donald Trump’s popularity stayed strong in the Northwoods throughout the 2020 election.

He won every Northwoods county by wide margins, just as he had in 2016.

But one political expert believes how Trump handled the COVID-19 pandemic cost him the state overall. editor J.R. Ross said, if not for how Trump responded to COVID-19, he would have won Wisconsin.

“White voters who leaned Republican in years past recoiled at President Trump’s behavior and his approach to the pandemic,” Ross said. “That really hurt him.”

Iron Mountain VA Medical Center

Right now, the U.S. has three vaccines available to fight off COVID-19 infections.

AstraZeneca is another company with ongoing trials for its COVID-19 vaccine. That vaccine has gotten some mix messaging on how effective it is in older adults.

The U.S. trial is trying to clear that up.

UW Health and the UW School of Medicine and Public Health is conducting a study on AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. William Hartman is the principal investigator for the trial that started more than six months ago.

Erin Gottsacker/WXPR

COVID-19  has put the performing arts industry in peril, spelling hardship for theaters, performers and arts educators everywhere.

But in the Northwoods, the show must go on, and local theaters are adapting to the times.

I’m sitting in Rhinelander High School’s nearly empty auditorium.

On the stage in front of me, about 20 students are performing their final dress rehearsal of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

One of the actors twirls around in a long, rainbow-colored coat.

Leanne Vigue Miranda

Several times a day, one of Leanne Vigue Miranda’s daughters taps on her shoulder while she’s in a Zoom meeting.

Phoebe, a fourth-grader, or Luna, a kindergartener, has a homework question or computer issue.

“I constantly feel like my focus is being shifted every five to ten minutes,” Miranda said.

Miranda is the registrar at Nicolet College, and she’s been working from home since the pandemic started. Sometimes, her days include ten virtual meetings while her daughters learn virtually nearby.


Ben Meyer/WXPR

Katy Martens looks into her computer camera and greets her virtual audience, starting a session of yoga with essential oils.

She’s in her backyard in Sayner, surrounded by a forest of changing color.

Most of her audience is where Martens lived just six months ago, the greater Milwaukee area.

She and her family moved to Vilas County, and her students stayed with her virtually.

“It was just like, I can do this from anywhere. Sayner’s awesome. It’s our family house,” she said. “It’s better for the kids. It was kind of a no-brainer then, at that point.”