Jessica Kleebauer was a freshman when she got the e-mail on March 12, 2020, telling the Lawrence student body that campus would be closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Home being Seattle, which was at the time going through a massive COVID-19 outbreak, Kleebauer only had a couple of weeks to pack up her things and get on a plane.
When she read the email, Ramisha Mahiyat was a sophomore from Bangladesh — a country that reported its first death from COVID-19 less than a week later. With the safety of cross-border travel still uncertain, she decided to stay on campus, joining the select group of students who were moved into one of three dormitory buildings for the remainder of Spring Term.
“At the beginning, it felt like I was left all alone to fight this pandemic all by myself,” Mahiyat said. “Without having the comfort of having my loved ones around me.”
Although the individual stories look different, all Lawrence students saw their lives suddenly shift when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in March 2020. Schools, businesses and restaurants were shut down, and COVID-19 cases started to rise. Since the start of the pandemic, Appleton has had more than 8,700 cases and 65 deaths. Now, over a year later, cases have been falling every week since the beginning of Spring Term, as documented by The Lawrentian’s weekly COVID-19 tracker — a phenomenon which some have attributed to the fact that, as of Monday, May 17, 145,658 COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed in Appleton.
“I’m sure that it’s going to at times be awkward and bumpy as we figure out what normal looks like moving forward as a city and community,” Mayor Jake Woodford said. “My hope is that we will all be flexible and kind to each other and understand and recognize that everybody’s having different experiences, frustrations and anxieties with the pandemic.”
Regarding the vaccines, Public Health Officer Kurt Eggebrecht thinks that the Appleton community is moving in the right direction.
Eggebrecht and his team chose to partner with local healthcare systems and pharmacists to get the vaccine clinics set up and distributed to the community. The Fox City Vaccine Clinic has administered more than 31,000 vaccinations and the local pharmacies have administered thousands more.
With 44% of Appleton residents having completed at least one dosage of a COVID-19 vaccine as of May, Eggebrecht said, the city clinic is being closed due to decreasing demand for COVID-19 vaccines.
An emphasis on easy access to vaccination as well as spreading education on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines have been utilized in an attempt to raise the vaccination rate and lower the COVID-19 rate.
Woodford’s goal — if vaccination efforts succeed and as Appleton goes into summer — is that activities like parades and fireworks can return and people can gather once again.
As of Thursday, March 13, Outagamie County has lifted its mask requirement, no longer requiring facemasks for those who are fully vaccinated. Woodford does urge all members of Appleton to follow the new CDC guidelines, and to be especially mindful in crowded situations or on public transportation, where masking is still required.
“I think this is one of the hard parts about where we are in the pandemic right now as a community is we’re trying to hold two thoughts in mind at the same time. One, that the pandemic continues to be a threat, that it’s been damaging,” Woodford said. “And then also optimism about the fact that the data is improving, the numbers are getting better and vaccination is continuing. And, you know, there’s definitely a tension in that, in terms of holding those thoughts in mind at the same time.”