The year of COVID-19: A look back at the local timeline of events from the moments it all changed

A look back at what brought us to this moment shows just how far we’ve come — from the frightening confusion of the early days to the march toward lives no longer dictated by an invisible force.

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A photo collage from the past year illustrates how Brainerd Lakes area residents grappled with COVID-19 precautions. Top left: A hostess greets people as they arrive June 3, 2020, at Poncho & Lefty's in Baxter. Restaurants were allowed to open for outdoor dining on June 1. Top Right: People wear masks during Bean Hole Days July 15, 2020, in Pequot Lakes. Bottom left: Alma Miller celebrates her 95th birthday April 29, 2020, at Good Samaritan Society-Woodland in Brainerd. Staff and residents honored the milestone inside the building while friends and family visited outside her window due to COVID-19 precautions. Bottom right: Balloons are released at the end of the Brainerd High School graduation parade May 22, 2020, at Brainerd International Raceway. The parade was a way for students and families to celebrate graduation amid coronavirus concerns. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Where were you when you realized the world was about to change? That a virus first reported on the other side of the globe would dramatically alter everyday life where you call home?

It’s been a year since the declaration of a national emergency in the United States because of the coronavirus pandemic — a long and strange year marked by shock, fear, upheaval, loss and frustration. The events we’ve individually and collectively experienced brought some together, while others were torn apart.

Families lost loved ones without the chance to say goodbye. Community members lost their incomes and watched their dreams pull apart at the seams. Young people lost activities and life milestones that cannot be recreated. Things most of us never even considered could be taken away or stopped suddenly were.

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But despite the trauma and the undeniable change in trajectory this past year’s events sent the world and our communities on, hope prevails. We witnessed small businesses persevere, innovate and overcome. We saw the kindness of strangers shower those in need with nourishment along with financial and emotional support. Even in the most difficult of times, many of us still achieved personal victories. Perhaps with so many things stripped away, our focus on what matters most achieved greater clarity.

One year later, positive signs of a move toward whatever normal looks like after this continue to add up. More people have access to a vaccine and trends seem to be headed in the right direction. A look back at what brought us to this moment shows just how far we’ve come — from the frightening confusion of the early days to the march toward lives no longer dictated by an invisible force.


Throughout 2021, the Brainerd Dispatch in a series of stories will explore how COVID-19 impacted the Brainerd lakes area, including revisiting people, businesses and organizations profiled during the various stages of the pandemic.

Below is a timeline of notable local events from the year that changed us all.

March 2020

Wednesday, March 11, 2020 — The World Health Organization declares the novel coronavirus a global pandemic and in a primetime address, President Donald Trump announces the suspension of travel from Europe. Good Samaritan Society announces it will restrict visitors to its skilled nursing facilities, including at Brainerd’s Bethany and Woodland locations. A total of five COVID-19 cases were reported in Minnesota at the time.

Thursday, March 12 — Minnesota State reports it will suspend classes at all of its college and university locations in the state, including Central Lakes College in Brainerd. CLC was on spring break at the time and plans called for classes to resume March 23. The state tournament for adapted floor hockey is canceled, ending the season of the defending champion Brainerd Warriors. Pierz boys basketball also saw their season end unceremoniously ahead of the section championship.

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Baxter Cub Foods grocery manager Tom Arms (left) and owner Chris Quisberg talk about the high demand for toilet paper March 13, 2020, in front of the empty toilet paper shelves at the Baxter store. Since the first news of the coronavirus outbreak, retailers have seen a rush on toilet paper, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Friday, March 13 — After first deciding to go on with the parade during a March 11 special meeting , the Crosslake City Council votes in an emergency meeting to cancel the large St. Patrick’s Day event. Brainerd Community Action follows suit in canceling Brainerd’s holiday parade. Cuyuna Regional Medical Center closes its Care Center and Heartwood Senior Living Community to visitors except for special circumstances, and the Crow Wing County Jail suspends visits as well. Event cancellations begin to proliferate, including the remaining spring season of the CLC Performing Arts Center.

Sunday, March 15 — Reacting to a Sunday news conference by Gov. Tim Walz, Brainerd Public Schools Superintendent Laine Larson announces Brainerd schools would close Monday, two days earlier than required by Walz. Also announcing Monday closures are Pequot Lakes, Pine River-Backus, Onamia and Staples-Motley school districts and Crosslake Community School. The schools were set to remain closed through March 27. The Brainerd Family YMCA announces it would offer emergency day care.


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Allie Jo Wasson (left) helps her friend Amber Pierson clean out her locker March 16, 2020 at Crosby-Ironton High School. Students were encouraged to clean out their lockers and expect to be away from school beginning March 18 until at least March 30. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Monday, March 16 — Crow Wing County and the cities of Brainerd and Crosby close their buildings to the public. The Deerwood City Council votes to close the Deerwood Auditorium. Walz signs an executive order closing restaurants and bars to indoor seating while also shutting down a number of other public accommodations. Meanwhile, local restaurants including Baxter Cafe gear up to provide meals to students without school meals.

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Veteran Bob Hill is interviewed by Veterans Administration Brainerd clinic nurse Mackenzie Holloway March 17, 2020, in the parking lot of the clinic. All patients and visitors to the clinic were pre-screened before going into the facility. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Tuesday, March 17 — Lakes area bars and restaurants are open without any kind of restrictions for the last time before ever-evolving executive orders limit capacities, change hours of operation and impose other limitations through present day.

Wednesday, March 18 — Grand View Lodge General Manager Mark Ronnei tells the Dispatch more than 100 employees were laid off in the wake of Walz’s executive order requiring closures of a number of businesses.


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Mary Miller (left) dons protective gloves as she hands Forestview sixth grader Lauren Yeager her Chromebook March 19. 2020, Middle school students picked up devices for distance learning and other personal belongings at the school. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

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Marie Kirsch, owner of Knotty Pine Bakery, explains the tools of cookie baking, such as this French rolling pin with rolling pin bands to keep consistent thickness of dough, during a Facebook live post March 21, 2020, at Knotty Pine Bakery in downtown Brainerd. The online learning event was intended to provide an option for people staying at home during the early days of the pandemic to decorate along. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Saturday, March 21 — The first case of COVID-19 in the Brainerd lakes area is reported in Cass County in an older resident with no travel history. The person was reportedly isolated at home.

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Essentia Health St. Joseph's Baxter Clinic registered nurse Jessica Schwartz talks to a patient in the COVID-19 drive-thru clinic March 23, 2020, in the clinic's parking lot. Patients are required to complete an e-visit before coming for a test. A doctor will issue an order, which is presented at the tent. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Monday, March 23 — Essentia Health establishes a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at its Baxter clinic. At the time, testing is restricted to those with symptoms due to a shortage in testing supplies.

Tuesday, March 24 — The Crow Wing County Board votes unanimously to extend a local emergency declared over the weekend. A declaration of a local emergency invoked parts of the county’s emergency response and recovery plan, allowing the county to act quickly and without compliance to typical regulations in a number of areas.

Wednesday, March 25 — Gov. Tim Walz issues a statewide stay-at-home order, with exceptions in place for essential workers.


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Signs throughout the Brainerd lakes area related to coronavirus send messages of encouragement, open or closed status, safety guidelines and even humor. Shown here is Crossing Arts Alliance (top left), Mickey's Subs & Pizzas (top center), Advantage PCA and Senior Care (top right), Pequot Lakes Community Library (center), PleasureLand RV (bottom left), Snow White Laundry (bottom center), Triangle Park (bottom right).

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A sign of encouragement in downtown Brainerd from March, 25, 2020 near the start of the pandemic. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Thursday, March 26 — Home sewers drop off donated, hand-sewn face masks at Essentia Health at a time when supplies of personal protective equipment were uncertain and masks were almost entirely unavailable to the general public.

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A sign declares people can pick up free kits to make fabric masks Thursday, March 26, 2020, from Cherrywood Hand Dyed Fabrics on College Road in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Friday, March 27 — A 90th birthday celebration in the driveway for Lorraine Bemis of Brainerd is an early example of family celebrations and other events adapted for the times. Instead of serving up spirits, new Brainerd business Five Rocks Distilling Co. brews and gives away hand sanitizer as its first act.


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Elisabeth Jenkins (left) gives hand sanitizer to Laura Beilke March 27, 2020, at the Five Rocks Distilling Co. in northeast Brainerd. The distillery pivoted to hand sanitizer when COVID-19 hit. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Monday, March 30 — The first known case of COVID-19 is reported in Crow Wing County, although not in a county resident. The infected person was a short-term resident of Brainerd drug rehabilitation facility Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. With closures extended, area schools begin distance learning with plans to reopen after May 1. Also this date, Essentia Health announces it would place hundreds of employees not involved in direct patient care on administrative leave in anticipation of a coronavirus surge.


Wednesday, April 1 — The first two COVID-19 cases among residents of Crow Wing County are reported — one by the Minnesota Department of Health and a second by Cuyuna Regional Medical Center. The Brainerd Jaycees Run for the Lakes, scheduled for April 25, is moved to a virtual format and the opening weekend for North Central Speedway is pushed back.

Thursday, April 2 — Area manufacturers and other businesses including The Teehive, LINDAR and Gull Lake Glass discuss the changes they’ve made in response to the pandemic. The Teehive began producing face masks, LINDAR manufactured face shields and Gull Lake Glass scrambled to keep up with orders of Plexiglas installation.

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Susanna Torres sews masks at The Teehive April 2, 2020, in Baxter. The company has switched its production to making protective masks and gown after the COVID-19 outbreak. Several of the employees have been furloughed, with eight employees remaining to create masks for individuals and companies. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Friday, April 3 — The Crow Wing County Board agrees to allow taxpayers to apply for a penalty waiver for May property taxes during an emergency meeting, focused on impacted businesses and individuals who were laid off.

Tuesday, April 7 — The Good Samaritan Society and its owner Sanford Health implemented a measure requiring caregivers and providers to wear face masks at all times while in clinic and care settings.


Wednesday, April 8 — The statewide stay-at-home order is extended through May 3.

Thursday, April 9 — Sheriff Scott Goddard shares with the Dispatch that some inmates were released from the Crow Wing County Jail to allow for social distancing, along with other changes implemented to who is brought to the jail in the first place during the pandemic.

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A sign pronounces the Oscar Kristofferson Park closed Wednesday, April 15, 2020, in Baxter due to COVID-19 precautions. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

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Area kids kept busy with chalk drawings in April 2020 hopes of taking home a prize in a social distancing chalk contest hosted by Brainerd Community Action and the Brainerd Jaycees. Submitted photos

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Funeral director Ashley Prentice (center) hands a basket for cards April 15, 2020, during an illustrative rehearsal of what the drive-thru visitation will be like at the Brenny Funeral Chapel in Baxter. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Saturday, April 18 — Closed under governor’s orders, Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter sells family-size bags of popcorn curbside along with gift cards for people to use upon reopening. Mann Theatres, which owns the theater, donated 10% of the proceeds to fighting COVID-19.

Sunday, April 19 — The Dispatch reports Crow Wing County purchased a semitrailer for possible use as a morgue in late March in reaction to the potential death toll due to COVID-19. Various models at the time — several of which were based on no mitigation actions being taken — projected higher fatalities than would ultimately occur.

Monday, April 20 — Brainerd High School lights its football field, baseball field and tennis courts as part of the #BetheLightMN social media trend that swept the state.

Wednesday, April 22 — The Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen reports seeing quadruple demand for its services as individuals and families grapple with sudden changes to their economic circumstances.

Thursday, April 23 — The Minnesota State High School League announces all activities and athletics that occur during the spring season are canceled for the 2019-20 school year.

Saturday, April 25 — Area fire departments accept homemade masks as part of a statewide drive for those living and working in congregate living settings.

Sunday, April 26 — The first death attributed to COVID-19 in Crow Wing County occurs when 71-year-old Maury Graham, a fixture of the Lakes Area Alano Association and Pequot Lakes community member, dies.

Tuesday, April 28 — Following approval by the county board, voters in Crow Wing County’s third largest population center, Unorganized Territory would cast their ballots exclusively by mail in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Alma Miller celebrates her 95th birthday April 29, 2020, at Good Samaritan Society-Woodland in Brainerd. Staff and residents honored the milestone inside the building while friends and family visited outside her window due to COVID-19 precautions. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Thursday, April 30 — Local health care leaders host a webinar to share information about COVID-19 and their response, predicting a surge in cases in late summer or early fall. Gov. Tim Walz extends the stay-at-home order yet again, this time through May 18. In response, the Diocese of Duluth extends the suspension of public mass.

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The leaping deer statue along Highway 210 has a new accessory, a face mask to protect it from the coronavirus, seen here April 29, 2020, in Deerwood. The deer is no stranger to safety precautions as it is seen wearing blaze orange during hunting season. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch


Friday, May 1 — Essentia Health announces it is laying off 900 employees with about 79 of those coming from the Brainerd lakes area.

Monday, May 4 — Costco begins requiring masks for customers. Also joining the early adopter was Menards.

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St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic School teachers wave to students and parents as they drive their cars past the school May 8, 2020, in Brainerd. The parade was arranged by the Parent Teachers Organization for Teacher Appreciation Week. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Sunday, May 10 — The first COVID-19 death in Cass County is reported. At the time, there were eight recorded cases of the disease in that county. The following day, Cass would report its second death.

Monday, May 11 — Brainerd High School announces its 2020 graduation ceremony would be virtual in the wake of guidance released May 8 by the Minnesota Department of Health.

Tuesday, May 12 — Lakes Jam reports it will postpone its 2020 music festival originally scheduled for June 24-27, moving the event to Aug. 5-8. Eight more Crow Wing County townships decide to vote by mail in 2020.

Wednesday, May 13 — Central Lakes College hosts its first of two virtual graduation ceremonies.

Friday, May 15 — A group of local restaurant and bar owners gather at JJ’s Bird Nest near Garrison to discuss possible defiance of Gov. Tim Walz’s indoor dining ban, recently extended through June 1.

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The Crosby serpent has followed the example of the Deerwood deer and is wearing a mask for coronavirus protection, seen here Saturday, May 23, at Crosby Memorial Park. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Sunday, May 17 — The Dispatch reports a group of Brainerd High School parents worked with Brainerd International Raceway to host a graduation car parade prior to the virtual ceremony for graduating seniors.

Monday, May 18 — Minnesota’s stay-at-home order expires. Good Samaritan Society-Bethany, in Brainerd, confirms 13 residents and eight employees at its facility tested positive for COVID-19. The south Brainerd skilled nursing center was the first in Crow Wing County to report cases of the disease and would ultimately see one of the highest death tolls of an outstate facility as 25 residents succumbed.

Wednesday, May 20 — Gov. Tim Walz announces restaurants and bars can offer outdoor seating when they’re permitted to reopen June 1, but still no indoor seating.

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Balloons are released at the end of the Brainerd High School graduation parade May 22, 2020, at Brainerd International Raceway. The parade was a way for students and families to celebrate graduation amid coronavirus concerns. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Friday, May 22 — The Crow Wing County Fair is canceled the same day the Minnesota State Fair board announced the Great Minnesota Get-Together would not take place. Also canceled on that date was Brainerd’s Fourth of July parade and surrounding events, although the fireworks were set to continue. Brainerd High School hosts its graduation parade and virtual ceremony. A precipitous rise in cases in Todd County is attributed to an outbreak at Long Prairie Packing Co., a beef processing facility.

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Friends and family watch Lindsi Northenscold and Matthew Hall get married Saturday afternoon, May 23, 2020, from the parking lot of Christ Community Church in Nisswa. The unusual ceremony took place to follow social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

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Crosby-Ironton graduates make their way along Highway 210 in Crosby May 23, 2020, for a parade after their graduation ceremony. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Wednesday, May 27 — The Brainerd City Council agrees to allow restaurants and bars to expand onto public property to allow for larger outdoor seating areas beginning June 1.

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Stylist Hannah Hall cleans a salon station May 28, 2020, at The Fine Line Salon and Spa in Brainerd in preparation of reopening. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Friday, May 29 — The second COVID-19 death is reported in Crow Wing County, the first of what will eventually be 25 deaths recorded at Good Samaritan Society-Bethany.


Monday, June 1 — Bars and restaurants can once again serve customers outdoors, while salons are permitted to operate again provided both customers and employees wear masks.

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A hostess greets people as they arrive Wednesday, June 3, 2020, at Poncho & Lefty's in Baxter. Restaurants were allowed to open for outdoor dining on Monday, June 1, 2020. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Sunday, June 7 — Essentia Health reports it’s recently resumed elective surgeries after Gov. Tim Walz lifted the restriction weeks earlier in May.

Monday, June 10 — The Minnesota governor shifts gears again, allowing restaurants and bars to open indoors at 50% capacity.

Wednesday, June 12 — The Brainerd Dispatch announces it will reduce its print editions to twice weekly, shifting publication on its other days to online only. The move was motivated in part by financial impacts of the pandemic.

Wednesday, June 24 — Timberjack Smokehouse and Saloon in Pequot Lakes temporarily closes after the positive COVID-19 test of a bartender. It was the first known local closure since reopening due to a positive test, a business decision that would become routine over the course of the summer.

Thursday, June 25 — After a number of meetings and considerations, Baxter Parks and Recreation announces the cancellation of its typical youth baseball program. Instead, the city offered a dollar baseball program at Oscar Kristofferson Park.

Friday, June 26 — Lakes 12 Theatre reopens, showing classic movies such as “Dirty Dancing,” “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park.” Cuyuna Regional Medical Center announces it will allow outdoor visits with residents of its skilled nursing and senior living facilities.

Sunday, June 28 — Crow Wing County surpasses 100 total COVID-19 cases reported by the Minnesota Department of Health.


Thursday, July 2 — Lakes Jam is officially canceled for the summer.

Monday, July 6 — Statewide, COVID-19 deaths sink to a three-month low.

Monday, July 13 — Courtrooms across the state begin to require face coverings for anyone in the facility.

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People wear masks during Bean Hole Days Wednesday, July 15, 2020 in Pequot Lakes. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Friday, July 17 — Brainerd International Raceway announces the 39th Annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals scheduled for Aug. 13-16 are postponed.

Monday, July 20 — A slew of retailers begin requiring masks inside their stores, including Walmart, Home Depot , Target, CVS and others. Brainerd Community Theatre begins its run of “Sh-Boom! Life Could be a Dream” outdoors to a socially distanced crowd.

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Brainerd Community Theatre actors wearing face shields perform the play "Sh-Boom! Life Could Be A Dream" on an outdoor stage for a socially distanced crowd Wednesday, July 22, 2020, on the south lawn at Central Lakes College's Brainerd campus. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Saturday, July 25 — A statewide mask mandate ordered July 22 by Gov. Tim Walz goes into effect.

Tuesday, July 28 — The Crow Wing County Board agrees to a framework for a grant program using funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Businesses and nonprofits ordered closed by the governor are eligible to receive $10,000 grants. Other local jurisdictions also develop grant programs with the funds.

Thursday, July 30 — Gov. Tim Walz and state health officials announced the Safe Learning Plan, guidelines to help schools make decisions about learning in the upcoming school year.

Friday, July 31 — The first local restaurant to be tied to COVID-19 cases is Moonlite Bay Family Restaurant in Crosslake, when the Minnesota Department of Health deems it a hotspot.


Tuesday, Aug. 4 — The Minnesota State High School League’s board of directors vote to keep girls tennis, girls swimming and diving, boys and girls cross-country and boys and girls soccer in the fall while moving football and volleyball into a new version of the spring season.

Thursday, Aug. 6 — The Brainerd School Board votes to begin the 2020-21 school year in a hybrid learning model. The format would have students in kindergarten through fifth grade learning in person each day, while those in grades 6-12 would attend in person classes twice a week and learn remotely three days a week. In addition, distance learning would be an option for any student who so chooses.

Friday, Aug. 7 — The Iron Waffle Coffee Co. in Lake Shore reports the state health department shut it down for not complying with the state’s mask mandate. The restaurant would go on to face more severe penalties, including a license suspension, after defying closure orders in the winter.

Saturday, Aug. 8 — A “No Show Fair” event allows 4-H youths to compete in events they would’ve showcased at the Crow Wing County Fair.

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Election judge Debby Leonard talks with Rudy Tomson Aug. 11, 2020, before he votes in the primary at Crosby City Hall. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Tuesday, Aug. 11 — The primary election takes place across the state as voters get their first taste of a dramatically changed environment as a result of COVID-19.

Thursday, Aug. 13 — Lifespring Church in Crosby is one of three Minnesota churches to join a lawsuit by the Thomas More Society against Gov. Tim Walz and county attorneys including Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan. The suit contends the government officials are violating religious liberties by limiting capacity during services, requiring 6 feet of social distancing and requiring face masks.


Tuesday, Sept. 1 — A lookback at August’s COVID-19 cases in the region shows spread is escalating. More than one-third of Crow Wing County’s cases reported at the time — 312 — occurred in August. The deaths of 16 Crow Wing County residents were recorded.

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Mike Gindorff's human biology class, wearing masks and sitting desks apart for social distancing, study their books Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, at Crosby-Ironton High School. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Thursday, Sept. 3 — The NHRA announces Brainerd International Raceway’s Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals was officially canceled for 2020.

Tuesday, Sept. 8 — Students return to school — some in person, some online — for the 2020-21 school year. After nearly six months of meetings the public could not attend in person, the Crow Wing County Board votes to reopen the doors . Those in attendance would be expected to follow social distancing guidelines and the state mandate requiring masks in indoor spaces. The Brainerd City Council also voted to reopen meetings to the public this date.

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Misty Myers comforts her son Aiden's nerves on the first day of school at Baxter Elementary School Sept. 8, 2020. Aiden's older brother Logan helped him into school, as parents were not able to enter the building due to COVID-19 restrictions. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch.

Sunday, Sept. 13 — Brainerd Public Schools reports its first case of COVID-19 in the school system, confirmed Sept. 11 — just four days into the new school year.

Monday, Sept. 14 — The Breezy Point Police Department issues a citation for a violation of the mask order, the first known ticket issued in Crow Wing County.

Tuesday, Sept. 15 — Discovery Woods school in Brainerd, a Montessori-inspired charter school, is the first in the region to change its learning model in response to positive COVID-19 cases. Tri-County Community Action Partnership shuts down its Brainerd Head Start center for in-person learning after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. The Baxter City Council agrees to continue meeting via Zoom and decides to revisit the issue in October.

Sunday, Sept. 20 — Fifth graders at Pioneer Elementary School in Pierz move to distance learning for the next week due a COVID-19 case in the school. Pierz School District announced the person who tested positive was last in attendance Tuesday, Sept. 15.

Monday, Sept. 21 — T he Minnesota State High School League announces volleyball and football will return in the fall and not play in the spring like initially decided in August.

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Brainerd Warrior head football coach Jason Freed talks to his socially distanced players Sept. 22, 2020, on a practice field at Brainerd High School. Sports and other activities at the high school are on a two-week hiatus, due to a cluster of COVID-19 cases at the school. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Tuesday, Sept. 22 — Brainerd Superintendent Laine Larson announces all Brainerd High School students will begin distance learning Sept. 24 in response to a cluster of COVID-19 cases. BHS was one of the first schools in the state to report a cluster of cases, just two weeks after classes resumed.

Sunday, Sept. 27 — The Dispatch reports in its 50th year, the Staples Area Men’s Chorus recently resumed in-person rehearsals in a borrowed warehouse space, masked and socially distanced.


Thursday, Oct. 1 — High school winter sports will happen and fall state tournaments will not, the Minnesota State High School League’s Board of Directors decide.

Tuesday, Oct. 6 — An increase in Crow Wing County cases pushes the Crosby-Ironton School District to move students at Cuyuna Range Elementary School to a hybrid learning model beginning Oct. 19. As of this date, the county’s 14-day per 10,000 case rate was about 29. According to the state’s Safe Learning Plan, schools are recommended to use a hybrid learning model for all students if the rate is 20-29.

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Brainerd City council candidates answer questions during a livestreamed forum Wednesday, Oct. 7, at The Woods Event Center. The audience was kept to a minimum as a caution against COVID-19. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Thursday, Oct. 8 — With COVID-19 cases steadily climbing in the region, forcing school districts to change learning models, area superintendents issue a letter pleading with community members to do their part to help stop the spread of the virus.

Friday, Oct. 9 — A spike in hospitalizations is raising alarms for the county’s public health leader as more than 200 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Crow Wing County in the previous two weeks. Since Oct. 3, the Minnesota Department of Health has reported nine new hospitalizations among Crow Wing County residents, the single largest increase in hospitalizations in the county during a one-week period.

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Charles Young casts his vote Oct. 15, 2020, in downtown Brainerd. The drive-thru ballot drop began Oct. 14 and will be available 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday through Nov. 2. Election judges are staffed at the site in the county parking lot in front of the historic courthouse on Laurel Street. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Friday, Oct. 16 — All area counties except Cass and Aitkin are on similarly steep trajectories with newly reported COVID-19 cases. Mille Lacs and Wadena counties saw the most recent spikes, while Crow Wing, Morrison and Todd have all been rising since mid- to late September.

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The Brainerd City Council meets via WebEx Oct. 19, 2020, with some council and staff members testing out virtual backgrounds. Screenshot

Monday, Oct. 19 — October brings with it a significant uptick in positive cases in the seven-county region along with increases in more serious impacts of the virus, such as hospitalizations and deaths. Forty percent of all cases reported thus far occurred in the month of October with nearly two weeks remaining. Little Falls Community Schools reports it will begin distance learning for all students in preschool through 12th grade Oct. 26.

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Brainerd High School teacher Dave Borash talks about his ordeal with COVID-19 after returning home Oct. 22, 2020, to his daughter Libby (center) and wife Amy. He was hospitalized with severe complications related to the disease caused by the coronavirus. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Thursday, Oct. 22 — After several staff members were exposed to COVID-19, Crow Wing County officials decide to close the community services building. Brainerd High School teacher Dave Borash is discharged from Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center after spending five days in intensive care with severe symptoms of COVID-19.

Sunday, Oct. 25 — Crow Wing County surpasses 1,000 confirmed cases.

Monday, Oct. 26 — Two downtown Brainerd bars, Shep’s on 6th and 9th Street Social Club, close for COVID-19-related reasons, according to their social media pages. Shep’s reported someone who was positive for the disease came to the bar Saturday night, prompting immediate closure of the bar.

Tuesday, Oct. 27 — This date marks the 10th consecutive day with at least one area resident among those who’ve died due to complications associated with COVID-19 as new cases continue to skyrocket in north-central Minnesota.

Wednesday, Oct. 28 — After several staff members are exposed to COVID-19, Crow Wing County leaders decide to switch to virtual service delivery through Nov. 5.

Thursday, Oct. 29 — Middle school and high school students at Brainerd Public Schools will all move to distance learning Thursday, Nov. 5, Superintendent Laine Larson notifies families. With 59 new COVID-19 cases reported, this date marks the highest single-day total for Crow Wing County since the pandemic began amid a record-breaking rise in cases statewide. The record would be broken the next day and continue to be challenged in the months ahead.

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Shelley Kennedy, a seventh grade language arts teacher at Forestview Middle School in Baxter, works with a student Oct. 30, 2020. Friday was one of the last days of hybrid learning before all middle and high school students at Brainerd Public Schools transition to distance learning. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

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Nadine Meyer as Little Red Riding Hood and Monte Meyer as the Big Bad Wolf hand out candy through a plastic pipe for part of the time Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, on Halloween during the touch-free drive-thru trick-or-treat event at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Baxter. Taking precautions because of the pandemic, the church had several candy stations set up where families could drive through to collect candy safely. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch


Tuesday, Nov. 3 — The general election takes place amid surging COVID-19 cases, with lines stretching down sidewalks in some jurisdictions and virus mitigation efforts prominent. Despite the challenges, Crow Wing County sets a record for voter turnout.

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Wrapping around the south and east side of the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse Nov. 2, 2020, early voters trickle into the east door of the building. On Monday afternoon the wait was approximately one hour. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Thursday, Nov. 5 — Pequot Lakes middle and high school students will begin full-time distance learning Monday, Nov. 9, Superintendent Chris Lindholm announces. The younger students will continue going to school each day but with tighter protocols in place at school, while preschoolers will maintain their normal schedule.

Friday, Nov. 6 — After a week that’s seen records set and broken a number of times, Crow Wing County shatters its previous single-day total with 125 new confirmed cases of COVID-19. The number was nearly double the previous single-day record in the county, which was 65 cases set Oct. 30. This date would stand as the high water mark for new cases in the county.

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The Brainerd High School homecoming candidates and royal ambassadors wear masks in a photo Nov. 6, 2020, at Brainerd High School. Steve Kohls

Monday, Nov. 9 — Crow Wing County Administrator Tim Houle says the sheer volume of county residents testing positive is making it increasingly difficult for county staff to keep up with contact tracing efforts. The announcement comes as 475 new cases in county residents were identified by the Minnesota Department of Health in one week with the 14-day total nearing 750.

Tuesday, Nov. 10 — Brainerd Public Schools announces the district will move the rest of its students into the distance learning model. Gov. Tim Walz announces an effort to tamp down the spread, imposing new statewide restrictions on bars, restaurants and social gatherings.

Wednesday, Nov. 11 — The death of the 23rd Crow Wing County resident due to COVID-19 is among the record 56 deaths reported by the Minnesota Department of Health. The latest figures showed Crow Wing County had 22 new COVID-19 hospitalizations since Friday. More than a dozen schools in the seven-county region of Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Mille Lacs, Todd and Wadena announce changes to their learning models within the past week, several citing staffing shortages as one of the reasons.

Thursday, Nov. 12 — Hospitalizations reported this date mean there were 30 hospitalizations in the past week, pushing the total number of residents hospitalized over to 101. One month ago on Oct. 12, that number stood at 43. For the second time, the Crow Wing County Board votes to restrict public access to county buildings. Crosby-Ironton and Little Falls are the latest lakes area school districts to announce a shift to distance learning due to increasing COVID-19 cases and staffing shortages. Following a COVID-19 positive test on the Brainerd Warriors football team, the team cancels its game against the Sartell Sabres and ended its 2020 season.

Friday, Nov. 13 — More than one-quarter of all the confirmed COVID-19 cases reported in Crow Wing County since the beginning of the pandemic occur in the previous week. The positive test results of nearly 600 county residents are counted.

Sunday, Nov. 15 — Now facing more COVID-19 patients than ever before, an influx of people who’ve delayed care for chronic conditions, and reduced staff due to illness or quarantine, the difficult days that were once hypothetical are becoming more and more frequent, local hospital leaders tell the Dispatch. Crow Wing County’s 14-day case count exceeds 1,000 for the first time over the weekend, adding new cases at an average pace of 90 cases per day in the previous week.

Monday, Nov. 16 — Brainerd city offices close to the public until further notice. Central Lakes College announces it is suspending its men’s and women’s basketball seasons.

Tuesday, Nov. 17 — Fourth through 12th grade students in Aitkin will be in a distance learning format until mid-January, while Little Falls students will begin their distance learning sooner than expected.

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A flag advertises takeout/delivery options Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, at Sage on Laurel in Brainerd. Gyms, bars, restaurants and many other establishments faced a second round of restrictions on indoor services after an announcement by Gov. Tim Walz Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, in order to combat nationwide spikes of COVID-19. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

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A sign, explaining the curbside pickup option, is already in place at The Local 218 Nov. 18, 2020, in Brainerd. Gyms, bars, restaurants and many other establishments faced a second round of restrictions on indoor services after an announcement by Gov. Tim Walz Wednesday, Nov. 18, in order to combat nationwide spikes of COVID-19. Local 218 owner P.J. Severson said the restaurant had been voluntarily implementing these kinds of restrictions for weeks prior to Wednesday. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Wedn esday, Nov. 18 — Skyrocketing rates of COVID-19 across the state prompt Gov. Tim Walz to prohibit all in-person social gatherings and restrict bars and restaurants on indoor services starting at midnight Nov. 20, lasting four weeks until midnight Dec. 18. Theaters and gyms must close, although retail stores can be open. Winter sports are also put on pause.

Friday, Nov. 20 — Nearly 30 area residents lose their lives because of complications from the disease. In total, the seven-county area counted 2,402 new COVID-19 cases this week, which represents 24% of all confirmed cases since March.

Monday, Nov. 23 — Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center restricts visitors of hospitalized patients with the significant growth of COVID-19 cases.

Tuesday, Nov. 24 — With six days left, the number of hospitalizations in November nearly triple in comparison to October’s numbers. A total of 84 residents were hospitalized so far and confirmed cases during the month are set to exceed 2,000 by a significant margin.

Wednesday, Nov. 25 — The Brainerd Jaycees announce the 2021 Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza will be virtual due to COVID-19.

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Cars wait in line around the block as community volunteers distribute Thanksgiving meals from a tent in front of the American Legion Post 255, Nov. 26, 2020, in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd

Friday, Nov. 27 — The deaths of seven area residents are among the 101 reported by the Minnesota Department of Health. The figure marks the first time the state reported deaths in the triple digits in a single day. Nisswa City of Lights is a drive-thru event, featuring Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus greeting children through a bank window.

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Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus talk with families in the First Western Bank and Trust drive-thru Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, during the Nisswa City of Lights celebration. The drive-thru was one of the COVID-19 precautions taken for the event. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch


Friday, Dec. 4 — New confirmed cases of the disease caused by the coronavirus among residents in the region drop this week to the lowest number since the first week of November, but the number of deaths remained in the 20s.

Sunday, Dec. 6 — Crow Wing County surpasses 4,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 over the weekend, while the deaths of six area residents were among those reported by the Minnesota Department of Health. It took 208 days to reach the first 1,000 cases. The second 1,000 cases took 17 days and the third 1,000 cases took 11 days. The fourth set of 1,000 cases slowed a bit, taking 15 days.

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Cars drive through the lanes outside the Essentia Health COVID-19 testing site Dec. 7, 2020, on Kingwood Street in north Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Tuesday, Dec. 8 — Identified as one of 25 hub sites in the state by Gov. Tim Walz, Brainerd will receive the COVID-19 vaccine directly from the national supply chain.

Thursday, Dec. 10 — While deaths continue to add up in the region and statewide, signs point to a slowdown in the recent surge of new coronavirus cases and the hospitalizations that come with it. Crow Wing County is one of just four counties in the state for which the seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate was below 5%.

Saturday, Dec. 12 — Mission Tavern in Mission Township stages a protest in front of the bar and restaurant in response to punitive actions taken by the state for serving indoors.

Wednesday, Dec. 16 — For the first time since late October, a county in the region reports no new cases of COVID-19. Wadena County stays at 1,035 cumulative cases, the same as the tally reported Tuesday. Gov. Tim Walz announces he will extend an order keeping restaurants and bars closed for indoor service and will authorize elementary schools to reopen with coronavirus mitigation measures in place.

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Pastor Mark Skinner (left) and Associate Pastor Sarah Marshall lead a prayer vigil for those affected by COVID-19 Dec. 16, 2020, at Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Thursday, Dec. 17 — Central Lakes College hosts a free community testing event, where people self-administer nasal swabs.

Monday, Dec. 21 — The two hospital systems in Crow Wing County administer the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Health care workers at both Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd and Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby received vaccinations. The Brainerd City Council awards its Community Member of the Month honor to the health care workers of Crow Wing County and their families.

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A group of friends relaxes around a fire at an outdoor dining area set up outside Big Axe Brewing Company Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Nisswa. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Wednesday, Dec. 23 — Brainerd Superintendent Laine Larson announces the Brainerd School District will open its facilities to full in-person learning for its early childhood students through second grade starting Jan. 19. Brainerd woman Cori Wrobel shares the story of her significant other’s prolonged and serious struggle with the impacts of COVID-19. Although 58-year-old Mark Skogen was moved from the cardiac intensive care unit and appeared to be on the mend, the Brainerd man died on Christmas Eve.

Sunday, Dec. 27 — The deaths of 25 people in the seven-county area due to COVID-19 are reported by the Minnesota Department of Health in the previous week, including 10 Crow Wing County residents. New cases, meanwhile, remain at their lowest point in months.

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Crosslake Fire Chief Chip Lohmiller receives the first dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Crow Wing County Public Health nurse Megan Adams Dec. 29, 2020, at the Crow Wing County Community Services Building. Crow Wing County emergency medical services responders were given the vaccinations to ensure they were safe on emergency calls. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Tuesday, Dec. 29 — Crow Wing County public health nurses begin vaccinating emergency medical service providers and those who will be giving the vaccine to others.

January 2021

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People carry signs supporting reasonable measures to control the spread of COVID-19 at Gregory Park before walking to the intersection of Washington and South Sixth streets for the "Rally for Safety, Science and Sanity" Jan. 3, 2021, in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Sunday, Jan. 3 — More than a dozen people rally in support of “Science, Safety and Sanity” with the message that the COVID-19 pandemic is still here and cannot be ignored.

Monday, Jan. 4 — More than 1,000 Crow Wing County residents have received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Tuesday, Jan. 5 — With the conclusion of the Cuisine Cash program, the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce reports more than 8,500 gift cards sold for about $170,000. The intention of the program was to bolster local small businesses in the dining and hospitality industries. Seventh through 12th graders at Crosby-Ironton will return to the classroom Jan. 20 after nearly two months of distance learning, High School Principal Jennifer Strom says in a letter to families.

Friday, Jan. 8 — In a letter to families, Superintendent Laine Larson announces more details on the district’s phased reopening plan, including timelines for third through 12th graders to return to the classroom.

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Brainerd basketball players wear masks during practice Jan. 6, 2021, at Forestview Middle School in Baxter. The Minnesota State Department of Health announced December 28, 2020, that face coverings must be worn at all times by athletes and spectators for basketball and hockey games. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Thursday, Jan. 14 — COVID-19 case rates in area counties continue to trend downward as more and more Minnesotans receive vaccines. The Minnesota Department of Health announced hospitals, health care systems and other vaccination partners could provide vaccines to broader categories of Minnesotans, including those 65 and older.

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The Brainerd Warriors varsity kick team performs in masks as a precaution against COVID-19 Jan. 16, 2021, at Brainerd High School. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Monday, Jan. 18 — The state begins rolling out vaccine to school districts to be given to educators.

Tuesday, Jan. 19 — Brainerd students in early childhood through second grade stepped back into the buildings Jan. 19 after two months in a distance learning model. The Crow Wing County Board unanimously approves distributing funds set aside by the Minnesota Legislature into the community, prioritizing businesses not ordered closed by Gov. Tim Walz that could still demonstrate financial impacts of COVID-19.

Friday, Jan. 22 — Guidepoint Pharmacy, Essentia Health, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center and Crow Wing County partner to deliver vaccine to hundreds of educators across the Crosby-Ironton, Pequot Lakes and Brainerd school districts. Crosslake’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade is canceled for the second year in a row.

Monday, Jan. 25 — Lakes area seniors see more movement on the COVID-19 vaccine front as Essentia Health begins getting shots into arms.

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Larry Johnson (left) waits for his dose of COVID-19 vaccine from Cuyuna Regional Medical Center registered nurse Peggy Forstner Jan. 27, 2020, during a drive-up vaccination clinic for patients 65 and older. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Wednesday, Jan. 27 — Cuyuna Regional Medical Center offers its first vaccination clinic for those ages 65 and older, distributing nearly 800 shots to a population among the most vulnerable to the virus’ serious complications.

Saturday, Jan. 30 — The Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza takes place on lakes all over the state via its virtual format.

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Tim Feekes holds a 14.25 inch tulibee he caught as Rachael Feekes takes his picture to enter into the virtual ice fishing contest Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, on Hole-in-the-Day Bay for the Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza. Although the event took place all over Minnesota some anglers still chose Hole-in-the-Day Bay as their fishing spot. When a fish was caught two photos needed to be uploaded, a photo of the angler and their fish and a photo of the fish on a measuring board, to the FishDonkey app. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch


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Garfield Elementary School Principal Jodi Kennedy welcomes fourth graders Latasija Robinson (left) and Zoey Potvin back to school Feb. 1, 2020. Third and fourth graders went back to in-person learning Monday after more than two months of distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Monday, Feb. 1 — Brainerd elementary schools welcome back third and fourth grade students after more than two months of distance learning. Crow Wing County has fewer than 100 active cases of COVID-19 for the first time in more than four months.

Thursday, Feb. 4 — Middle and high school students at Brainerd Public Schools are set to come back to the classroom four days a week beginning Feb. 16, Superintendent Laine Larson announces.

Tuesday, Feb. 9 — Essentia Health updates its visitor policy to one adult visitor per patient, per day, allowed in all clinics and hospitals, including emergency departments. About one-third of Crow Wing County’s 65-plus population received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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Pharmacists Jayme VanRisseghem (left) and Robert Wennerstrand talk about COVID-19 vaccinations Feb. 12, 2021, at GuidePoint Pharmacy in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Friday, Feb. 12 — In response to growing frustration expressed by their patients over delays and ever-changing information about the availability and delivery of vaccine doses, leaders of several lakes area health care organizations issue a joint statement Friday offering understanding and reassurance, while also explaining they’ll have to delay administration of second doses to some patients.

Monday, Feb. 15 — Leftover Valentine’s Day bouquets find new homes at senior living complexes and skilled nursing facilities in Brainerd and Baxter.

Tuesday, Feb. 16 — Ninety Crosby-Ironton students are absent from school after either testing positive for or being exposed to COVID-19, Superintendent Jamie Skjeveland wrote in an email to families.

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Observing Ash Wednesday, Carole Bollig, wearing a mask, receives ashes on her forehead from Pastor Steve Benson, wearing both a mask and shield, at Zion Lutheran Church in Brainerd Feb. 17, 2021 marking the beginning of Lenten season in the Christian Church. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Friday, Feb. 19 — As Minnesota Department of Health officials celebrate the 1,000,000th dose of COVID-19 vaccine distributed in the state, Aitkin County becomes the first in the seven-county region in which 20% of the population received at least one dose.

Monday, Feb. 22 — In-person criminal jury trials for all case types will resume in state district courts effective March 15 under a new statewide order issued by Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea.

Wednesday, Feb. 24 — Pine River-Backus Superintendent Jonathan Clark announces a two-week reset period for seventh through 12th graders, after three positive cases in students and staff. Little Falls Community High School canceled two boys hockey games after Athletic Director Kevin Jordan said a recent opponent confirmed a case of COVID-19, meaning the Little Falls boys had to quarantine.


Tuesday, March 2 — Several COVID-19 vaccination options are available to those who qualify in the lakes area this week, with supply bolstered in part by the introduction of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine into the U.S. market.

Tuesday, March 9 — More than two-thirds of Crow Wing County’s 65 and older population is at least partly vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Tuesday, March 9, while the state moves to expand eligibility to the next two priority groups.

Thursday, March 11 — President Joe Biden gives his first primetime address after signing the latest $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress, telling Americans life may be close to normal by the Fourth of July. There should be enough vaccine to innoculate all American adults by May, the president says.

Friday, March 12 — In another sign of improvement, Gov. Tim Walz announces a significant scaling back of restrictions on social gatherings, restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues, set to go into effect Monday, March 15.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or Follow on Twitter at

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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