'What A Year It Has Been': Looking Back On A Year Of COVID-19 In Kansas

Mar 19, 2021

As she prepared to speak before the Sedgwick County Commission earlier this week, Health Director Adrienne Byrne began with a quick aside.

“Well,” she said, “what a year it has been.”

On March 7, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Kansas. A few days later, the World Health Organization declared the disease a global pandemic. And then, exactly one year ago today, it was detected in Sedgwick County.

Since then, nearly 300,000 Kansans have tested positive for COVID-19, and almost 5,000 have died. It’s been a year of loss and uncertainty, shutdowns and health orders, businesses closed and jobs that may never come back.

In the year since COVID-19 upended our world, KMUW has covered just about every angle of it: from the governor’s school shutdown to how students are slowly returning to the classroom; the scramble to find personal protective equipment and get people tested; businesses that were forced to adapt, and even some industries that flourished during the pandemic; and now, how health leaders are getting vaccines out to as many Kansans as possible.

Few things haven't been affected by the pandemic. We asked our listeners how their lives have changed since March 19, 2020, to now. Here’s what we heard back:

Rhonda Williams, restaurant owner, Wichita

"I've learned how to be flexible. And learned how to just relax, you know. The pandemic has taught me how to just relax. And to just take life day by day. We rush. I don't want to rush anymore."

Gavin, Augusta

"Throughout the whole pandemic, my wife and I have spent all of it apart. We had a life-changing event that involved me losing a job out in western Kansas and I decided to move back to Augusta to take a job in Wichita and she ended up having to stay out in western Kansas with our three-month old. 

I haven't got to see my son for most of a year, except for on the weekends. ... We ended up not being able to see each other for close to a month at times. The pandemic has definitely changed the family dynamic. ... But she has recently been able to move down here to Augusta so we're now living together again and things are much better."

Virginia Skinner, Peabody

"I am foods project leader for the Peabody Achievers, the 4-H club in Peabody. The monthly meetings have gone virtual, of course, for the last year, but the 4-H-ers in the foods project have actually benefited from that.

Once a month I send out instructions to all the families, so they know what ingredients will be needed. And instead of everyone coming together in one kitchen, each 4-H-er is in their own kitchen with their own parents or grandparents. And since this is a group of five- to nine-year-olds that are learning to cook, it's been a huge advantage to have them in their own kitchens ... the kids have been much more willing to try different foods because they cook them themselves.

We didn't know if we could keep on with our projects, and then we figured out that this works so well."

Deb Stover, Wichita

Deb Stover and her dad, Johnny Andrew Jackson
Credit Courtesy

"My dad was a great guy. He did everything. He was part inventor and baseball coach and softball coach. ... You know what, I always said he walked me down the aisle, but he didn't give me away because he stood beside me when my husband was dying from cancer. And he was just always there for me. He was my rock.

And when he needed me ... I decided to sell my house in Colorado and moved back to Kansas to help my dad. I knew my dad needed me and he'd always been there for me and I wanted to be here for him. So I came back here to be with him. And I'm so glad I did because I wouldn't have had those years with him.

And I had no idea that this pandemic would take him from me in such horrible way, because I couldn't even be with him when he died. ... I was able to talk to him via FaceTime a few times before he lost consciousness, but I could not be with him. And it just devastated me that he had always been there for me and I could not be there with him."

April, teacher, Wichita

"I think most teachers are planners. I think that most of us spend a great deal of time and probably get some joy from, like, planning out how activities and lessons are going to go. But any attachment to any kind of planning has gone. And yet at the same time, we're being constantly asked to create more plans, more contingency plans, more...

You know, I've always loved being an English teacher, but I just realized this year that the English part didn't matter at all. Like, the students are what matter entirely, that hopefully we're going to continue to learn and hopefully we're going to continue to grow, but in the end right now, the most important thing is how are the kids doing? Are the kids doing OK today? Are they logging in OK? I mean, it's just completely shifted my focus.

I've always cared about my students, but I have a huge sense that we're kind of all in this together. ... So when I say big shifts, I'm not going to walk away from that. I think that attitude that the lessons are secondary, they're not as important as how the kids are doing, this is going to stay with me."