Mother’s Day is always special for Mercyhealth nurse Kaelyn Duesterbeck, but this year it will be filled with a little more joy and appreciation than usual.
Duesterbeck, 32, has been fighting COVID-19 on the front lines in Mercyhealth’s emergency room and drive-thru testing unit. She works 12-hour days.
When she returns to her home in Delavan, her five kids—all 5 or younger—usually are in bed.
Sometimes she goes days without seeing them.
“I really miss them,” Duesterbeck said.
“I’m not a stay-at-home mom, but it’s not the same as being a Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 working mom,” she said. “I’ll be home with the kids all day, and then they won’t see me for three days. Before, it was always a guarantee I could go home and snuggle with them before bed, and now I won’t get to see them sometimes at all for three days at a time.”
In the first few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, nurses were waiting for the virus to take hold in Rock County. Duesterbeck said she struggled with anxiety and insomnia. One weekend, it hit her hard.
“There was one weekend where I was home with my kids, and I was terrified. I just thought about what if life as we know it is never the same again? What if one of us dies? You just don’t know whether something earth-shattering could happen at any time.”
Duesterbeck has worked in emergency rooms for a decade, but she said she has never seen anything like COVID-19. Each day she wears gloves, a face shield and other full-body protective gear.
Sometimes her anxiety gets the better of her. One of her daughters, Etta, was born with just one lung. The thought of what COVID-19 could do to all of her children, but especially Etta, haunts her.
“I’m scared to death that if I were to bring this home to her, what would that mean for her?” Duesterbeck said. “She’s already had four really big surgeries by the age of 3. It makes me feel sick just thinking about how she would handle that.”
When Duesterbeck comes home each day, the routine is the same: She puts her clothes in a plastic bag and washes her work clothes separately. If they’re awake, the kids aren’t allowed near her until she has taken a shower.
“They’ll come running because they’re excited to tell me about their day, and I have to remind them I can’t come near them,” she said. “One of them gave me a huge hug, and I pushed her away, and she knew she messed up but she really needed a hug. It was my birthday, and she missed me, and she needed a hug.
“Then I look at her, and a 4-year-old feels bad because she hugged me, and it’s a lot to maneuver emotionally.”
Her kids—Vivi, 5; Eliza, 4; Etta, 3, and 10-month-old twins, Cole and Ivy—keep her plenty busy on her days off, especially with the oldest attending kindergarten classes virtually.
Her husband, Dan, works in construction despite the shutdown. Dan’s mother watches the kids while the couple are at work. Duesterbeck said having both of them as a support system has helped her.
“Honestly, my home and my family. It’s why I do anything that I do. It’s my happy place,” she said. “When everything is really crazy, and I feel a lot of stress, while the children can also be stressful, they make me laugh and make me forget. … I’m so up to my ears in diapers and snacks and water—they ask me for water 100 times a day. It’s 600 really simple, busybody tasks. I don’t have time to think about being tired or anxious and stressed.”
At work, her second family lifts her up.
“I do enjoy coming to work and working with my best friends because we’re all scared, and we’re all showing up despite it,” she said. “When that patient comes in really sick with COVID symptoms and we don’t know, it’s something we’re not saying, but we all put our gear on and it makes us feel stronger to do it together.”
This weekend and Mother’s Day, the focus will be on the children and the good health they share. Duesterbeck has Sunday off work, so she plans to spend all the time she can with her kids and husband.
“It will mean more this year,” Duesterbeck said. “One weekend, I felt like I was planning my kids’ funerals. I was sitting there thinking, ‘What if I don’t get to hold you again?’ Then I came around and realized this isn’t going away.
“I prayed a lot, and I continue to do so. I reached acceptance, and I just want to beat it so we can get it over with. It’s (COVID-19) really done a lot for making you look at how important your family is to you.
“My kids tell me now they love me more than I love coffee, and I can’t think of a stronger love than that,” she said. “This Mother’s Day is going to be more important, and I can’t wait to spend it with them.”
The two-month Wisconsin shutdown could be lifted in a matter of weeks. When it is, daily life likely won’t look like it did before the world stood still.
Servers at restaurants could be wearing masks, movie theaters might no longer be full and lines at water parks will likely move slower to give everyone their own space to splash.
That is according to new guidance released Friday by Gov. Tony Evers and the state’s economic development agency for businesses to resume operations safely once the governor’s order to stay home is lifted.
The guidance suggests removing as much interaction with customers and workers as possible, such as through cashless payments, and requiring workers in all industries to wear masks if possible.
“As we continue to turn the dial, businesses need to know how to re-engage safely so employees and customers can feel confident when they return,” Evers told reporters Friday. “As much as people believe we’re going to return to the good old days—that’s just not going to happen.”
The guidelines apply to public places, retail shops, manufacturing plants and other businesses allowed to reopen during the first phase of the governor’s plan to lift restrictions.
Public and private schools also are allowed to reopen during the first phase, but similar guidelines for school officials won’t be released until before the next school year, Evers said Friday.
Evers’ order to stay home expires May 26, and the governor said Friday he doesn’t see any reason for it to be extended. It could be cut short, technically, by a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling in a lawsuit brought by Republican lawmakers to block Evers’ order.
The lawmakers are also asking the court to immediately delay its decision to give the department time to come up with a different plan that would be considered by a Republican-controlled committee that includes members that have been heavily critical of Evers’ approach to controlling the virus outbreak.
Practically, it’s possible a new plan wouldn’t be in place until after the order lawmakers are seeking to block expires anyway.
“I feel great about it,” Evers said about how he feels the court will rule. “If indeed the decision is based on facts, the law and precedent, we win. If it’s based on some other issues, we may not win.”
Evers and his administration came under fire Tuesday by conservative justices on the court, one of whom compared his order to close businesses and schools amid the coronavirus outbreak to government oppression.
Evers issued a public health emergency March 12, a week after the coronavirus began to spread in the state following outbreaks in China and Europe and on the coasts of the United States.
The governor in late March issued an order to shut down scores of businesses, bars and restaurants, and schools.
That order was set to expire in late April, but Evers and Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm extended it by a month as cases of the virus continued to climb—the move that prompted GOP lawmakers to sue.
A second lawsuit was filed in recent days challenging the governor’s order.
The court has not ruled in either case.
James Michael Halpin
Betty A. Popanz
As the coronavirus rampaged across the U.S. economy, it slashed a cruel path of job losses, reduced hours and hardships for America’s most vulnerable workers.
The 20.5 million jobs lost in April fell disproportionately on African Americans, Latinos, low-wage workers and people with no college education. Friday’s jobs report from the government—the worst on record—exposed the deep seams of inequality within the world’s wealthiest nation and the threat they pose to an eventual economic recovery.
The paradox is that if the economy is to fully bounce back, those same workers will need to be restored to jobs at restaurants, hotels, offices, factories, warehouses, medical facilities and construction sites. The flow of commerce hinges on their ability to deliver packages, cook meals, run clinics, provide public transportation, and clean and maintain buildings. And their income, though typically low, supports the consumer spending that fuels most U.S. economic activity.
“This represents a huge loss for the productive capacity of the economy,” said Stephanie Aaronson, director of economic studies at the Brookings Institution. “The economy is smaller and grows much less quickly when these workers are isolated from employment.”
African Americans are more likely to die from the virus. Latinos and non-college graduates are heavily concentrated in low-wage occupations, including jobs that have helped keep the nation fed and safe during the pandemic. Those groups were also among the first to lose their jobs as the economy crashed at a speed unrivaled in modern American history.
For April, while the overall U.S. unemployment reached 14.7%, the rate for African Americans was 16.7%. For Latinos, it was an all-time high of 18.9%. For workers with only a high school diploma, a record 17.3%. For immigrants, 16.5%.
By contrast, the unemployment rate for white Americans was 14.2%. And just 8.4% of college graduates—who often enjoy the flexibility to work from home—were unemployed.
Latinos likely suffered disproportionately from the layoffs because they are more likely to work in the leisure and hospitality sectors—at hotels, restaurants and bars—where job cuts have been especially brutal, noted Gbenga Ajilore, an economist at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.
“This shows that when the economy recovers, we have to be intentional about tackling the structural barriers that limit the employment outcomes of these groups,” Ajilore said.
The vast magnitude of the layoffs has laid bare the inequalities that endured long before the viral outbreak.
President Donald Trump frequently highlighted the job gains achieved by minorities during his first three years in office, pointing to them as evidence that his administration was bridging the nation’s wealth gap. But the pandemic has shown that the 11-year expansion did not provide much financial cushion to these workers, many of whom are now struggling to buy food and pay their housing bills.
Among them is Erika Romero, a native of El Salvador who abruptly lost her job last month as a janitor at the Postal Square Building in Washington. Romero was left without health insurance or the ability to pay most of the monthly mortgage on the Maryland home she shares with her husband, their two daughters, her adult son and both sets of grandparents.
Her husband had his daytime job reduced to three days a week and his overnight cleaning job was cut. She has received one unemployment check so far, not nearly enough to support her substantial family.
“Where am I going to look for work in this epidemic?” said Romero, who lives in the United States on a temporary protected status after an earthquake struck El Salvador. “It’s just unfair.”
More than 100 members of Romero’s union have died of the coronavirus, and 20,000 others have lost jobs, according to the local Service Employees International Union, which represents 175,000 janitors, security guards, doormen and other property service workers. Many lack legal status in the United States, said Jaime Contreras, vice president of the local union.
“Those workers can’t apply for unemployment,” he said. “They don’t get the stimulus money. They are left in the dark. To me, that is a huge mistake because this pandemic knows no legal status.”
Seven of the country’s top cleaning companies are pushing Congress for payroll protection in the form of grants and tax credits. They warn that it could take weeks or months to rebuild their workforce at the very time when demand for professional cleaning could surge as schools, stadiums, gyms and other public spaces reopen.
“The last thing we want to do is have to rebuild the skilled network back up just as we get more demand,” said Josh Feinberg, chief strategy officer for ABM Industries, a contract cleaning company.
Many minorities who work in the construction sector and restaurant industry, for example, have developed specialized skill sets. Last month, construction companies cut a stunning 975,000 workers, a record monthly loss.
At the same time, retailers cut 2.1 million jobs. Administration and waste services dropped 1.5 million. Restaurants and bars shed an unprecedented 5.5 million jobs.
Alex Tellez was working as a bartender and server at a Chicago steakhouse when he was told by a manager in mid-March to file for unemployment aid. Born in Mexico, Tellez had steadily moved up in the restaurant industry over 23 years, earning up to $60,000 year to support his wife and two daughters, ages 3 and 5. But now he has fallen several thousand dollars into credit card debt to support his immediate and extended family.
Tellez, 43, is considering a career change.
He doesn’t see how the restaurant industry can survive a future with social distancing rules and precautions in place indefinitely.
“As a bartender, I can’t serve you unless you’re 1 or 2 feet away from me,” he said. “It breaks my heart that I might have to leave. I love being in the industry. It’s a passion of mine.”
The city of Janesville could impose its own safer-at-home restrictions if the state Supreme Court strikes down the order of Gov. Tony Evers’ administration.
That’s the word from City Manager Mark Freitag, who answered Gazette questions about the COVID-19 situation by phone Friday.
But the city likely would continue doing what it’s doing now: Using the power of persuasion to keep businesses safe and encouraging people to avoid gatherings, wash their hands and wear masks in places where they can’t maintain physical distance, Freitag said.
The state’s highest court heard arguments this week in a lawsuit seeking to remove some safer-at-home restrictions. It has not issued a ruling.
Freitag said the city council’s approval March 31 of his emergency declaration allows him to take actions to protect the public during the pandemic.
Whether he would impose a safer-at-home order for the city “remains to be seen at this point. We’d have to see how things play out.”
Janesville has a long way to go in learning those behavior changes to hamper the spread of the disease, Freitag added, noting that many people still do not wear masks when they enter stores.
“My feelings at this point are that we would have to focus on those simple community behavior changes and, frankly, a whole lot more discussion with community partners would have to be in place before we considered any other restrictions.”
Freitag also answered these questions:
Gazette: Rock County made a list of the top 10 metro areas in the country for COVID-19 growth rate this week. Did that surprise you? Why do you think that happened?
Freitag: It did surprise him and Fire Chief Ernie Rhodes, who has an extensive background in disaster management.
The New York Times analysis looked at growth rates of new infections and the case-doubling rate of 9.1 days, and “That’s probably not a good place to be.”
But Rock County health officials told the city they believe the numbers were largely because of the outbreak at the Birds Eye plant in Darien, where many Rock County residents work.
Gazette: Has the city reached out to Birds Eye?
Freitag: No because the plant is not in Janesville, but officials did check with two food processors in the city, Seneca Foods and Upper Lakes Foods.
Those companies are taking the pandemic seriously and are requiring masks, social distancing, health screens and regular disinfection, Freitag said.
Gazette: Your administration will present a recovery plan to the city council at Monday night’s meeting. How did this plan come to be?
Freitag: Staff discussions about how the city can help with recovery started early, thanks to Rhodes’ input.
“He (Rhodes) said people won’t remember the response, but they’ll certainly remember the recovery. That resonated with me,” Freitag said.
In addition to helping businesses with state and federal recovery assistance, the city Economic Development Office brainstormed ideas, came up with a plan, showed it to the council and asked council members to provide ideas.
Freitag hopes the council on Monday will say what it likes and doesn’t like among the ideas, and staff will use that input to present a final version when the council meets May 26.
The plan offers numerous proposals, including giving an extension of companies’ job creation requirements as part of their tax increment financing agreements, postponing payments on the city’s downtown revolving loan fund, starting a micro-loan fund for businesses too small to qualify for state or federal emergency loans, and using community development block grants to help with emergency rent assistance.
Gazette: Will the council have to approve the plan?
Freitag: Not technically, “but I would prefer to have their blessing” with a formal vote.
Gazette: Will the recovery plan be revised as time goes on?
Freitag: That’s likely. The city prides itself on being innovative in responding to changing conditions.
Gazette: Mother’s Day is Sunday. Are you concerned about gatherings?
Freitag: Not concerned, but the city is prepared for those who violate the restrictions and have large family gatherings. If police officers observe one or get a complaint, they will respond.
Gazette: Will JPD be doing any extra patrol of parks or public areas to try to break up family gatherings?
Freitag: No, just the routine patrols.
Gazette: What else is on your mind?
Freitag: “We’re completing our eighth week today of dealing with this emergency. We know people are tired, fatigued, some concerned, some frustrated. I would encourage everybody to look at how they can adapt to the new environment.”
Freitag knows some people are facing difficult situations and recommends they focus on positive things in their lives.
“We’re all going to get through this. It’s a resilient community. We will rebound, and certainly we’re Janesville strong. We’ve proved that over a 150-plus-year history.”