By Shereen Siewert, Wausau Pilot and Review publisher
Happy Monday, readers. And what a week it’s been.
One week ago, I was preparing to write stories on city issues ranging from updates on the Thomas Street contamination investigation to new proposals for Wausau’s east riverfront. We managed to keep up on most of the news, but I’ll be honest. By the time Monday was over, it was clear that our priorities as a newsroom were changing, and fast.
Frankly, the world is a very different place today than it was a week ago. Here’s what we’re doing behind the scenes to keep you informed.
First, we temporarily closed our downtown Wausau office and began working from home for two reasons. One, we flew back from Tampa late last week via Chicago O’Hare, both locations that are now showing a high level of spread. By the time Tuesday rolled around, we knew that meant we needed to self-quarantine to ensure we didn’t unknowingly pass the virus on to anyone else. The other reason is this: I don’t talk about it much, but I have an autoimmune disorder — Lupus — that puts me in a high risk category. Consequently, I found myself on a doctor-ordered quarantine. Luckily, we have everything we need to work remotely, and that’s exactly what we’re now doing.
The days have been long. I am at my desk from about 5 or 6 a.m. until about 7 or 8 p.m., when I finally go take my pajamas off, take a shower, and put on another set. In about a two-day span, we lost about 80 percent of our advertising contracts as, one after another, businesses were forced to shut down or suspend operations. That’s a tough blow for us, but more importantly, our hearts ache for the local workers and businesses thrust into economic chaos, uncertain when — or if — they’ll return to work.
We launched a private Facebook group, Central Wisconsin Coronavirus Updates, which now has more than 2,300 members who are sharing great information, asking good questions, and helping support one another in this time of crisis. Several local journalists are helping moderate the group, and others are welcome. If you’re interested, shoot me an email. If you haven’t joined the group, you can do that here. Laura Scudiere of the Marathon County Health Department is a frequent contributor, offering terrific resources and stepping in to answer questions and helping keep everyone in the loop about what’s happening from a local standpoint. We can’t thank her enough.
We also reached out to Jacob Sieg, a talented local photographer, to document the Wausau story in photos. The photo essay by Then & Now Art® for Wausau Pilot and Review was our most read story of the weekend, and offers a haunting glimpse into the life we’re currently living. If you haven’t seen it, take a peek here. We are grateful to Jacob for his incredible work on this project.
We also put together a list of eight things to celebrate right now, from holiday lights going back up to significant advances in the search for a vaccine, to the unique ways the people of this community are coming together and connecting during this difficult time. It’s worth a read, I think, and you can find it here.
Over the weekend we began sending election Q&As to local candidates, and we hope to have those posted later this week. you can watch for those on our elections page, here.
This week, we’re debuting a podcast, starting with an interview of the people at the Community Foundation of North Central Wisconsin, who along with the United Way launched a community fund to help local businesses cope with all of this. Watch for that in the next day or two, with future episodes in the works.
We’re also talking with local businesses about how we can support each other as we move forward. As a small business and nonprofit ourselves, we can identify with their challenges. To stay afloat, I’ve stopped paying myself a salary and have applied for several grants for journalism organizations like ours. We’re committed to our mission of offering the most comprehensive community news we possibly can to our readers, and we will never have a paywall.
If you’d like to donate to our organization to help keep it sustainable, you can do that here. If you can’t, that’s okay too.
A reminder: All of our COVID-19 coverage can be found on a single page that you can bookmark here. You can expect a daily update of new numbers statewide and in Marathon County by about 2 p.m. each day.
One final comment. I want to thank each and every one of you who reached out to us this week with words of support. I cannot tell you just how much your emails and Facebook messages have meant to all of us.
We are eternally grateful.
Hang in there, friends. Stay safe and well. And maybe turn those holiday lights back on.