One year later, a look back at how COVID rocked Bemidji
It’s officially been a year since the coronavirus hit home and changed all that we knew as normal.
BEMIDJI -- It’s officially been a year since the coronavirus hit home and changed all that we knew as normal.
Words and phrases (that many of us are so tired of hearing) like pandemic, stay-at-home order, social distancing, Zoom calls and face masks, have entered into our everyday vocabulary and seem like they will never leave.
Love ones were lost, businesses struggled, careers were altered and so many other hardships endured. But, things weren’t all bad.
Some positive changes have happened locally and beyond this year, and in reflection, the Pioneer has gathered a list of important dates and special moments to highlight what the community has been through these last 12 months.
From initial problem solving and swift action by public health officials and city leaders to creativity and kindness shown by business owners, community members and educators, Bemidjians were resilient, and heroes rose to the challenge while the community rallied in ways many have never witnessed.
The following timeline of the past year tells the rest of the story:
March 16: Gov. Tim Walz announced the temporary closure of restaurants and bars to dine-in customers. Many local establishments hopped on board shortly after adjusting their business model. Schools also had to adjust to distance learning.
March 25: The virus first left its imprint on the community in mid-March as schools and businesses began to shutter, but the sickness itself didn’t reach the area until March 25 when Beltrami County confirmed its first COVID-19 case .
March 27: Gov. Walz took steps to further curtail social activity and limit the spread of the coronavirus by ordering Minnesotans to stay inside their homes and not leave unless necessary, which went into effect on March 27. Organizations in Bemidji came together to ensure everyone in the community was fed, and those at risk were able to stay safe at home.
April 7: In connection with an effort by the community's economic development organization, the Bemidji City Council created a loan program to assist businesses through the coronavirus crisis.
April 8: Gov. Walz’s initial stay-at-home order was set to expire on April 10 , but was extended through May 4.
April 17: In response to the vast amount of businesses forced to close their doors, several relief programs were organized and launched to support local businesses and community workers.
April 18: As the pandemic continued to rage on, people around the world rallied in support of frontline workers and those most affected by the coronavirus. Some responded by placing paper hearts in their windows as part of a nationwide “World of Hearts” movement.
Paper hearts and the message “Better Together” decorate the windows of First National Bank along Paul Bunyan Drive NW. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)
May 12: Bemidji State University was one of many schools that celebrated commencement in an alternate fashion.
May 18: Gov. Walz’s state stay-at-home order was lifted, allowing retail stores and businesses that maintain, repair and sell goods to reopen at 50% capacity.
May 23: The Pioneer checked in with the United Way of Bemidji Area to see how they came to the rescue in many ways around the community. And Bemidji High School held a special drive-thru graduation ceremony .
May 31: Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota announced its first coronavirus case at its Bemidji location.
June 1: Restaurants, bars and hair salons were finally able to reopen, although eateries could only have outdoor dining. The Bemidji City Council approved measures to assist downtown restaurants to open outdoor spaces along sidewalks and city streets.
June 4: The Bemidji Jaycees announced the 76th annual Water Carnival would go on as planned from July 1-5 -- but with a special twist.
June 16: It was announced that the Beltrami County Fair, set to happen Aug. 12-16, had been canceled due to the continued threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
June 19: Bemidji State University announced its plans to welcome students back in the fall with restrictions in place and many classes going online.
July 5: More than 750 vehicles made their way through the Sanford Center parking lot for the Bemidji Jaycees Grand Unparade , which was held as part of the 76th Annual Water Carnival.
July 9: Sanford Bemidji Medical Center prepared a ward on the fourth floor as a COVID-19 unit.
July 10: As a result of rising COVID-19 numbers, several area businesses, especially in the food service industry, opted to either close their doors temporarily or increase safety measures.
July 13: Eight-year-olds Iyonna and Sophia opened a pop-up nail salon to earn some cash in front of Pine Ridge Apartments and cheer up the community.
July 21: The Bemidji City Council established a face mask requirement in all indoor public spaces within the city.
July 25: Gov. Walz issued a statewide mask mandate requiring everyone to wear a mask or face covering over their nose and mouth when in an indoor space or area of public accommodation.
July 28: Beltrami County COVID-19 cases reached over 150 , with around 40 being monitored by public health officials.
July 30: With Havenwood Care Center residents unable to venture out due to the virus, the Jake Bluhm State Farm Insurance Agency hosted a pet parade at the facility -- with many pets dressed up to parade past windows -- to spark some cheer.
Aug. 4: Beltrami County reached a total of 200 recorded coronavirus cases since the pandemic made its way to Minnesota, with 33 being monitored by the Public Health department.
Aug. 16: Beltrami County Public Health confirmed an individual in their 90s died as a result of COVID-19 after being hospitalized, marking the first coronavirus death in the county.
Aug. 24: Mask-clad students and faculty made their way back to campus as the first day of classes kicked off at Bemidji area colleges.
Aug. 26: After months of selling only popcorn instead of movie tickets, the Bemidji Theatre welcomed back moviegoers -- just at a slightly reduced capacity.
Aug. 28: More than 300 positive cases of the coronavirus were recorded in Beltrami County, with numbers surging in the weeks previous.
Sept. 1: The Bemidji Jaycees and myBemidji co-hosted a Fair Food Rally in the Marketplace Foods parking lot to satisfy the community’s fair food cravings after the Beltrami County Fair and the Minnesota State Fair were canceled.
Sept. 4: Beltrami County partnered with Greater Bemidji to support businesses in the community after being provided with $5.8 million in CARES funding.
Sept. 14: Bemidji’s younger students trickled back into school for the first time since March , donning masks and prepared for a semester of social distancing.
Sept. 18: President Donald Trump visited Bemidji and spoke to a sea of thousands at Bemidji Aviation Services, breaking the government mandate limiting crowd sizes to 250.
Sept. 29: Beltrami County saw a sharp rise in recent COVID-19 cases having recorded a total of 460, and was actively tracking 79.
Oct. 2: BSU announced its first in-person music event since March would be held at the Thompson Recital Hall the following week.
Oct. 9: COVID cases surged and Beltrami County exceeded 600 cases. With hospital beds filling up and numbers continuing to increase, health officials asked the public to follow health guidelines .
Oct. 16: In partnership with the North Country Food Bank, the Bemidji United Way distributed Farmers to Families food boxes to around 2,000 households in the Sanford Center parking lot. October also marked the organizations fall fundraising campaign.
Oct. 21: Beltrami County Public Health was tracking 115 active COVID-19 cases with six hospitalized, and 800 recorded in total since the pandemic began.
Oct. 31: Bemidjians didn’t let the pandemic ruin their annual Halloween celebrations , but many traditions looked a little different in 2020.
Nov. 17: BSU held a COVID testing event and public health officials released safety precautions ahead of Thanksgiving as the county surpassed 1,550 cases.
Nov. 20: When Gov. Walz announced on Nov. 18 that bars and restaurants were to close their doors to in-person dining for four weeks starting Nov. 20, there was an unwanted feeling of déjà vu for the owners of local eateries around town.
Nov. 27: The Bemidji Jaycees hosted the Night We Light Unparade in the Sanford Center parking lot. Attendees viewed a variety of brightly lit floats and saw Santa Claus in the ladder of a Bemidji fire truck.
Dec. 4: Beltrami County Public Health was tracking 250 active COVID-19 cases , with more than 2,300 recorded total. Of those 250, 10 residents were hospitalized.
Dec. 11: Public health announced that COVID-19 vaccines would be available to health care workers at Bemidji’s Sanford location in the next week. Sanford was one of 25 locations throughout the state that would receive initial doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
Dec. 14: A spark of hope was reignited as COVID-19 vaccines arrived in the area starting with Sanford in Bemidji and Cass Lake IHS.
Dec. 16: Gov. Walz announced that he would extend an order keeping restaurants and bars closed for indoor service and would allow elementary schools to reopen with coronavirus mitigation measures in place.
Dec. 17: The first COVID-19 vaccines were administered at Sanford Health in Bemidji .
Dec. 24: Though many of the usual community Christmas traditions had to be altered, hundreds of luminarias still lined Lake Boulevard as part of a Christmas Eve tradition that's been going on more than 30 years.
Jan. 2: Owners of The Cabin Coffeehouse and Café announced the downtown Bemidji business’s closure , citing Minnesota COVID-19 restrictions for an insurmountable loss of revenue.
Jan. 6: Sanford Health staff began vaccinating senior living residents at its Neilson Place facility , as Beltrami County recorded 2,981 total coronavirus cases.
Jan. 11: Restaurants, bars and theaters were able to reopen at 50% capacity, putting an end to a 54-day stretch during which dining rooms across the state were ordered to close.
Jan. 19: Sanford Health began administering COVID vaccines to community members ages 65 and older.
Feb. 1: Local efforts to vaccinate the public for the coronavirus proved successful, with Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota having administered 1,900 doses since mid-December. Beltrami County Public Health vaccinated about 1,300 doses in January.
Feb. 6: Though it was held as a closed, private event, local “celebrities” still braved sub-zero temps for the Bemidji Jaycees’ annual BRRRmidji Plunge, leaping into the icy waters of Lake Bemidji for an honorable community cause .
Feb. 11: The Bemidji United Way celebrated a successful 2020 campaign , surpassing its fundraising goal of $525,000 by raising $554,273.
Feb. 14: Despite frigid temperatures and pandemic precautions, organizers of Bemidji's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s walk still hosted their fifth annual event .
Feb. 20: City of Bemidji liquor store sales increased about 29% in 2020 , partially due to pandemic-related closures of bars and restaurants.
Feb. 26: The number of active coronavirus cases in Beltrami County decreased significantly to just 34 , while local health providers continued to administer vaccinations. Total cases had surpassed 3,350.
March 2: After a year of distance learning for students, Bemidji High School and Bemidji Middle School announced they would shift back to full in-person learning on March 25.
March 4: Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota announced it was opening COVID-19 vaccinations at its Bemidji location to anyone 65 and older , whether they had received an invitation from the provider or not.
March 6: The number of passengers traveling to and from the Bemidji Regional Airport were released , and decreased dramatically in 2020 in comparison to both 2018 and 2019 because of the coronavirus.
March 11: Sanford Health began expanding its vaccination efforts to include people with underlying health conditions of multiple age groups and essential workers.
March 13: After going virtual in 2020 due to the pandemic, an in-person Shamrock Shuffle was held on a Saturday morning in Bemidji with about 50 participants.
March 17: In Bemidji and Bagley, Sanford had administered 13,289 COVID-19 vaccines so far, with 7,942 being first doses and 5,347 being second doses. Beltrami County had recorded more than 3,400 cases, with 63 active at the time.