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Milwaukee Mayor, former health commissioner address grim milestone one year into pandemic

Posted at 5:29 PM, Mar 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-13 18:29:10-05

MILWAUKEE — Saturday marks one year since the start of COVID-19's rapid spread through Milwaukee.

"Without a doubt, this has been the most challenging year that we've had in the city, in this state, and in this nation," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

With one year down, more than 98,000 confirmed COIVD-19 cases and over 1,000 deaths, current, and former Milwaukee County officials are remembering the day the pandemic hit the city and changed life as we know it.

"The city of Milwaukee and the county of Milwaukee had our very first case on the 13th of March, so Friday the 13th," said former Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik.

"Many people have really suffered because of what's happened over the last year," said Barrett.

Thinking back to the beginning of the pandemic, former city of Milwaukee health commissioner Jeanette Kowalik, who now works in the public health sector in Washington D.C., says she and her team were trying to learn everything they could about the virus and what they could do to keep the public safe.

"Each day was frantic, we were on the defense not the offense," said Kowalik.

To put the rate of Milwaukee County's positive COVID-19 cases at the beginning of the pandemic into context: one week after that first positive case, the County saw that number increase to 204 cases.

"That's when we were like this virus is so contagious, we were still learning about the virus," said Kowalik.

But as time went on, Kowalik says health officials started to become better prepared.

"More equipment became available, more testing supplies, more people were trained how to test, more PPE became available," said Kowalik.

During her time as health commissioner, Kowalik also advocated for people of color in Milwaukee after data showed the pandemic was disproportionately impacting racially diverse and low-income communities. That's something she's continuing to do, but at the national level.

"We are seeing more white people getting vaccinated than others. How do we make sure that vaccine access is equitable? So that's something we've been working on," said Kowalik.

And as COVID-19 vaccines continue to be distributed throughout Wisconsin, state officials say they're hopeful that a brighter future is just around the corner.

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