Journalists working as essential workers to keep the public safe

By Shelby Evans

Photo provided by Molly Beck: A police officer standing outside of the capital monitoring protesters asking for the state to reopen.

Journalists have had to adapt to continue delivering critical news to the public while also staying safe during COVID-19 pandemic.

Reporters are chasing stories while never leaving their homes, and many are being furloughed for a period of time. 

Molly Beck is the State House reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but she is no longer going to the capitol everyday and reports from her apartment in Madison. 

Beck’s reporting on state politics has changed to be only relating to COVID-19.

“I think the biggest change in our reporting is that we are not covering anything but the Coronavirus story from different angles,” Beck said. “There is a presidential race happening right now, and you wouldn’t know it.”

Getting factual information about COVID-19 is essential for ensuring that the public can stay safe.

Beck said, “The value of newspapers have maybe never been greater. At least it feels that way right now.” 

Carlos Gonzalez is a sports photographer for The Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His job has changed significantly with no sports happening for him to photograph.

“The safety concern is the biggest thing just for the people I’m covering, myself, and the concerns of just the further spread of the virus,” Gonzalez said.

Before sports seasons were cancelled or postponed Gonzalez had spent a month in Fort Myers, Florida covering the Twins’ spring training. The baseball team didn’t even get to start their season.

After returning to Minnesota in early March, Gonzalez’s reporting had to adjust. 

“I did do a photo essay on the lack of sports in Minnesota,” Gonzalez said. “It was a broad range of what it’s like for there not being any sports.” 

Gonzalez takes extra safety precautions when he goes to take photos, but feels like even with the necessary information about COVID-19 his responsibilities as a journalist have not changed.

“We basically have the same fundamentals as we always do. We’re trying to tell stories in the community,” Gonzalez said.

Briana Reilly is the Capital Times state politics reporter. She has also been reporting from her home in Madison.

“I have not been coping well, I think the problem is that with no clear distinction between work and non-work time every waking minute feels like working time,” Reilly said. 

Unable to report how she normally does she has been fixating on her job and found that she is trying to get more information to the public faster than ever.

“It feels like I have not been able to stay off of my email or twitter or refrain from filing stories,” Reilly said. “The only identity we have right now is that of journalists because everything else in our life is in disarray.” 

Beck has found herself in the same kind of work/life balance as Reilly.

“I’ve never worked this much in my life,” Beck said. “It’s easy to do because you’re just working from home so there is no natural end to the day.”

“This is like the busiest day I’ve ever covered times 10 and it’s every day,” Beck said.

The reporters feel that regardless of how their jobs have changed they still commit to it everyday and find that the public is appreciating the information.

All three newspapers have instituted a system requiring a period of unpaid furloughs for all reporters. 

“Our ad revenue has completely fallen off a cliff because there isn’t anything to advertise right now,” Beck said. “If there isn’t any ad revenue we are going to be in trouble.”

Beck, at the Journal Sentinel, will be taking a week off without pay.

Reilly has already taken an unpaid week of furlough but has another upcoming week that she’ll take off.

The Capital Times’ policy is that “people are going on two weeks of unpaid furlough from last month through the end of the quarter,” Reilly said.

For Gonzalez at the Star Tribune, reporters are to take eight days of furlough over the next two quarters. Reporters are allowed to work with editors to allocate the days how they’d like.

“Basically a day a month for the foreseeable next months,” Gonzalez said. 

For Beck and Reilly in Wisconsin, they were around the state reporting on the election on April 7. They took photos and observed the scenes from six feet away to keep safe.

“You just kind of have to put that out of your mind because you have to do your job and you can’t get paralyzed by fear,” Beck Said.

Gonzalez was in Grand Forks, ND covering an outbreak that is linked to the LM Wind Power factory. 

“I wipe down all of my gear after coming out of assignment with clorox wipes, I’m washing hands, basically all the recommended things to not put myself or others in danger,” Gonzalez said.

Journalists are doing everything they can to make sure they are safe, their papers are safe and the public stays safe and informed.

Healthcare Workers

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing Emergency healthcare workers to adapt as professionals and as family members

By Nick Rawling

Dr. Jon Rawling and Allie Stowell, a UW-Madison student and scribe with Madison Emergency Physicians, at St. Clare Hospital in Baraboo (before the Covid-19 outbreak)

For most of us, the COVID-19 era has meant spending the bulk of our time at home, isolated from the threat of infection. Social distancing measures have provided time for reading a book that’s been laying around, trying unsuccessfully to bake or watching Netflix shows about breeding big cats.

But some of us still have to go to work. For Madison-area emergency medical staff, this means risking their lives every time they clock in to try to keep this pandemic in check.

Although Wisconsin has been spared the brunt of the mayhem wrought by the novel Coronavirus so far, doctors and nurses have still had to adapt, not only as professionals but in their lives at home. 

For Amber Rickman, a registered nurse in the Emergency Department at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, the biggest change has been the increased use of personal protective equipment (PPE). This means wearing a disposable gown, gloves, a respirator mask and a face shield regardless of the patient’s chief complaint, she explained.

“All of these items are designed to be one-time use, but as of right now I’m reusing my face shield and my mask,” Amber Rickman said. “I’m only allowed two masks in a given work week, so the idea that we could run out is real.”

For obvious reasons, she is worried about the possibility of PPE supplies being exhausted. 

“I cannot imagine what it would look like, and I’m trying really hard not to imagine that day,” Amber Rickman said.

Besides PPE, the equipment emergency medical staff need most during this crisis are tests. Jon Rawling, an emergency physician with Madison Emergency Physicians, said that while testing capabilities have drastically improved since the start of the pandemic, he would like to have more tests.

“We don’t know a lot of times, because there’s a lot of things that manifest with shortness of breath or fever,” Rawling said. “The lack of rapid and reliable testing increases the level of uncertainty and anxiety that goes with it.” 

Despite increased use of PPE and better testing capabilities, this uncertainty and anxiety is shared by Rawling’s colleagues.

Amber’s husband, Christian Rickman, is an emergency physician at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison. He said that one of the biggest changes for him since the outbreak has been a looming worry that one of his patients could get him sick.

“[We] go to work, and we accept the risks,” Christian Rickman said. “It never really crossed my mind that I’d be going into work with something like that hanging over my head.”

Rawling feels that stress too, especially because he is his family’s only source of income. 

“I’m worried about my ability to maintain income for my family,” Rawling said. “Because if I get Covid, I potentially miss a couple weeks of work, maybe even a month or more depending on how long I have symptoms.”

This anxiety is warranted. Health care workers account for at least 14% of Wisconsin’s 7,314 COVID-19 cases, according to the DHS

At the end of March, this fear almost became a reality for Christian Rickman after he was told he had to self-quarantine because he’d been exposed to a patient who tested positive for COVID-19. 

For more than a week after he got the news, he had to sleep and live in his basement, away from his family. Luckily, Christian Rickman never developed symptoms and only had to spend eight days in self-quarantine before returning to work.

“It was a stress on the family, which I think was certainly bigger than the stress on work and my partners,” Christian Rickman said. “My partners were really quick to trade shifts. I ended up not really needing to lose too many hours.”

For Amber Rickman, one of the difficult parts about Christian Rickman’s quarantine was explaining the situation to their young children.

“We were able to provide information for the boys, which I think was really important and really helpful,” Amber Rickman said. “We were able to tell our sons ‘hey, we can’t hug and kiss Daddy like we normally do. Let’s practice our air high fives.’”  

Even those who aren’t sure they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 are not leaving anything to chance. Amber Rickman and Rawling are both showering and changing before interacting with any members of their family when they come home from their shifts.

Under normal circumstances that would never happen, Christian Rickman explained.

“When I come home from work, normally I’d play with the kids, sometimes wouldn’t even change clothes, give them a hug, go play sports, do whatever,” Christian Rickman said. “But now they can’t get within 6 feet of us when we come home.”

While the healthcare professionals I spoke to are taking this situation very seriously, some Wisconsinites are not acting as carefully. 

On April 7, Wisconsin went ahead with in-person voting during their spring primary election despite warnings from experts. Rawling didn’t believe this was a wise choice. 

“The six foot distance is not necessarily a perfect precaution, and at that time cases were still steadily increasing in the state of Wisconsin,” Rawling said. “It just added risk to anyone involved in the polling process or anyone who set out to vote outside of a mail-in ballot.”

As of April 21, seven cases of COVID-19 have been linked to activities related to that election, according to the Journal Sentinel

Despite this, some Madisonians believe that Gov. Evers’ stay-at-home order is too harsh. On April 24, thousands gathered outside the Capitol to protest the order. 

While Rawling, Christian and Amber Rickman all told me they sympathized with the protesters to some degree, Christian said the protests could ultimately be self-defeating.

“If [re-opening the state] is ultimately the goal, then continuing on with social distancing, self-quarantine, those kinds of things, for a relatively limited time up front to open things up more widely on the back end may ultimately be the best way to accomplish that,” Christian Rickman said.

Though Amber Rickman said the protests were unsafe, she also said that she believed it may be time to start opening back up in phases.

“I think we can start to open things up and test the waters. I mean at some point, you have to,” Amber Rickman said. “Do I think we’re looking at big sporting events anytime soon? No. But do I think we can get back in the restaurants and our hair stylists? Yes I do.”   

Rawling agreed with that sentiment, but cautioned against opening things up too quickly.

“The fact that we’ve been able to limit the number of deaths and hospitalizations is good, but that doesn’t mean that we should underestimate [COVID-19],” Rawling said. “It’s an indicator, I think, that what was done as far as stay-at-home orders and social distancing has made a difference.”

From this, it seems like there might be light at the end of the tunnel. Even still, in an era defined by contradictions and uncertainty, Amber Rickman emphasized that we must proceed thoughtfully.

“Please adhere to the recommendations from those with a medical background. Please listen to what those folks have to say,” Amber Rickman said. “Your epidemiologists, infectious disease physicians, your healthcare workers, your laboratory folks. These are the people that are qualified to speak about this particular issue. Trust what they have to say. Please go by their guidelines.”

Essential Workers

Alone on the front lines: What the pandemic is like for those few workers whose jobs have been deemed essential

By Molly DeVore

While people across the state protest to reopen Wisconsin businesses, those workers whose jobs have stayed open share their experience navigating a post-COVID world.


Natural Sound: Let Freedom Ring, sung at the Reopen Wisconsin Rally

VO: On April 24th, approximately 1,500 people gathered outside the Capitol to protest Governor Evers’ Extension if the Safer at Home Order

VO: Some protestors carried signs that said things like “any job that puts food on the table is essential” and “save lives and livelihoods.”

VO: However, for those workers who have been deemed essential, being able to go to work can sometimes mean having to choose between their health and their income. 

VO: Katherine Johnson, a senior at the University of Wisconsin and a cashier at Whole Foods says that for her, continuing to go to work is not  a choice. 

Katherine Johnson: People are sometimes like I respect your decision and it’s kinda hard because this isn’t necessarily a decision that  I’m making. Like I could either quit my job or take time off and then not have a source of income. 

VO: Robyn Freuck a BSN RN at Aurora West Dallas Labor and Delivery, says that continuing to work poses a risk for both her and her family. 

Robyn Freuck: I’m a single parent and luckily we haven’t had any patients, like I said, on our floor who have tested positive per say, But I already have a plan in place for my son. Like if we have a patient that’s positive he’s staying with my mom permanently until this all resolves. 

VO: Ben DeVore, a warehouse associate at Co-op Partners says that with the pandemic driving a higher demand for food, he is actually now working overtime. 

Ben DeVore: I think the biggest thing was just how, like just the pace increased so much more and also what it was, is I think a big thing, is we just ran out of products so quickly. And so I had never seen the shelves that empty.

VO: In the midst of this chaos workplaces are scrambling to implement new safety regulations. 

Johnson says that at Whole Foods things change everyday. 

Johnson: Every single time I’d come into work there’d like, be a new protocol. Like before you clock into work you have to have your temperature taken. So like if you have a temperature over I think it’s like 100.4 you have to go home and like self-monitor for a few days. so they do that and now, at the start nobody was required to wear masks but as of like a week or two ago everybody who works there has to wear a mask. Just like a lot of cleaning happening and just like a lot of other stores we installed like the plexiglass stuff so there’s like a little bit more of a barrier between like customers and the employees as well as like markers of  six feet around the store. 

VO: However, Freuck says that some of these regulations are dependent upon the available resources.

Freuck: at first it was, you can only wear one mask, you get one once a week. So you’re wearing these masks up to forty plus hours a week and now it’s we get a different mask when we walk in, one after lunch, one like halfway through our day. It’s just, I think they’re just kinda making it up as they go. 

VO: Johnson says that these rapid changes have made an already difficult situation even harder. 

Johnson: I’m trying to figure out this online school thing but I also have to like do my job which is now ten times more stressful than it ever was before. 

VO: Freuck says that the best way to navigate this challenging situation is for people to stay home.

Freuck: They’re protesting at Brookfield Square the Stay at Home Order, which is just completely arrogant. Like if I had the option to stay at home and live my life that way that’d be cool too. If people just stay home and stop complaining this will be over sooner and we can all get back to our lives. 

VO: This recent push to reopen the economy, will put others at risk, Johnson says. 

Johnson: I feel like this is coming up a lot right now with the protests that are happening and like you see those kind of things that like go viral on social media, and it’s like those protestors  like that one woman who was like I want a haircut and it’s like ya, maybe you want a haircut but the person whose giving you the haircut is gonna be the one who is like actually suffering in this equation. Like you don’t want to go out you want someone else to go out. 

VO: With the threat of becoming infected hanging in the air, many things remain uncertain for these workers. However, Johnson says that one thing’s for sure– these jobs have always been essential.

VO: From the J335 newsroom, I’m Molly DeVore 

Effects on Madison Art

Local Madison arts scene put on pause due to COVID-19

By Emily Knepple

The Majestic Theater in Madison
The Majestic Theater, located on King St., is one of the many Madison venues impacted by COVID-19. Photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.

One of the first things I remember hearing about Madison was their art scene. Growing up just outside of New York City, art has always been important to me. I like to associate albums with parts of my life and find solace in a classic trip to the movie theater. 

Needless to say, I couldn’t give that up when choosing where to spend my next four years, and with Wisconsin being somewhat foreign to me, to hear they had live music, a theater that housed Broadway shows and much, much more, my liking of the city grew exponentially. 

Places like The Sylvee, the Majestic, the Overture Center for the Arts, the Chazen and the New Orpheum (just to name a few) bring all kinds of artists from all over the world to decorate Madison and bring it to life. When the Coronavirus began to threaten our favorite pastimes and dim the lights of their stages, there came a time when decisions had to be made. And like most Madisonians, I didn’t doubt their ability to make the best out of the situation. 

Matt Gerding, President of FPC Live, the booking company that overlooks Madison’s biggest venues like The Sylvee, High Noon Saloon and the Majestic Theatre, said that everyone wanted to make the call in the best interest of the safety of their staff. 

It became clear that closing the doors was their best option and with Gov. Evers issuing a stay-at-home order in the middle of March, the decision appeared to be made for a lot of Madison employers. Gerding shared that most performances are looking to be postponed until a later date rather than canceled, hoping to instill excitement for the future. 

Kirstin Pires, Editor of the Chazen Museum of Art, says that the Chazen began looking at responses to the pandemic as early as January. 

“We developed a plan to have reduced hours over spring break. We knew we would follow guidance from campus,” said Pires. “We have always had a disaster plan in place, so to some extent it was just reviewing those plans.” 

Most Madison art venues are finding ways to stay engaged with their audiences online. Gerding tells me that FPC Live has launched a Facebook livestream series with the Isthmus titled “Social Distraction,” where local artists are given a chance to perform and raise money. 

At the Chazen, finding ways to turn galleries of artwork digital has allowed them to be innovative and take advantage of these testing times. Trying to make their art as accessible online, Pires says that they are using their website and social media to offer newer content and “experimenting with whatever might work.” 

But, as most art-lovers will understand, removing the in-person experience of walking through a gallery is a hard thing for tech to recreate. “It’s pretty dramatic when you take the ‘in real life’ part away,” said Pires. “On the other hand, all our staff are being really creative and thinking about how to deal with the restrictions.” 

COVID-19 has a mass impact on all of us and for the arts scene more specifically, those that make our Saturday night trips out for a show possible are also feeling the consequences of this shutdown.

The Chazen Museum of Art virtual events
A list of virtual events being held by the Chazen to keep their audience engaged is displayed on

Max Flanagan, a sophomore at UW-Madison, is an usher at the Overture Center for the Arts. Flanagan, who has seen the virus unfold as an employee first-hand, shares that the Overture was “committed to serving patrons for as long as ethically feasible.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, while still at work, Flanagan tells me that his management was very understandable. There was no questioning of volunteers that did not feel comfortable coming in anymore. 

“Most of our employees and volunteers fall into the particularly vulnerable age range, so many did not want to take unnecessary risks,” said Flanagan. “Shifts were easily swapped or cancelled.”  

Due to a halt in revenue, Flanagan is currently not getting paid, but he shares that the Overture has continued to host weekly meetings to check-in on their staff and try to keep high spirits. He also sees additional safety protocols being implemented upon their return, whenever that may be. 

“Personally, I expect our capacity size to reduce dramatically getting back into the swing of things,” said Flanagan. He adds that the Overture has always taken sanitation and maintenance very seriously and he anticipates their “amazing work” to continue once they return. 

Like most people involved in the Madison arts scene, Flanagan admits that normalcy will take some time to get back to. However, he’s hopeful, as the Overture Center did just release their 2020-2021 season. While things might be different, Flanagan shared that “hopefully once this world overcomes this pandemic together, we can resume attending our beloved shows and performances.” 

With uncertainty lingering for all, I firmly believe that the arts scene in Madison will bounce back. For a community that so strongly values their own musicians and opens their arms to many, I have a feeling that this pandemic will only further the appreciation for the arts. Similar sentiments came from those involved, like Gerding and Pires, who see Madisonians rallying behind art once this comes to a close. 

“I’m not sure about the how, but I am sure it will recover,” said Pires. “This community values art highly, and will begin making it and seeking out as soon as it’s possible.”