Living (And Working) In Isolation During a Pandemic

By Maureen McCollum | March 24, 2020

  • Wisconsin Public Radio's "Wisconsin Life" producer Maureen McCollum with her radio gear inside her house. Like many people, she's working from home in isolation. (Photo by Paul Matushek)

Wisconsin Public Radio's "Wisconsin Life" producer Maureen McCollum with her radio gear inside her house. Like many people, she's working from home in isolation. (Photo by Paul Matushek)

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Life in the era of COVID-19 is really weird right now. It’s tough. Sometimes it’s hilarious, sometimes it’s really scary.

People have lost their jobs. Others are working from home. And then there are the fine folks still heading to work every day…going to hospitals, grocery stores, factories and restaurants.

Regardless of your situation, when you’re stuck at home right now, how are you coping? We asked our listeners to share their stories about life in isolation. They called us and sent emails. Below is what they had to say.

(The following voicemails have been edited for brevity and clarity)

June Czarnezki: South Milwaukee, WI

I get a little fresh air walking in a local park or even just in my backyard. It helps a lot to clear the cobwebs out.

Xochilth Garcia: Madison, WI

COVID-19 is something that everybody has been talking about for days. We’ve been home now for a week. My husband lost his job last Thursday. He worked for Sub-Zero for a while now. This will bring another layer of stress to our life.

I’ve been here in Madison for 20 years. I’m a Latina from Central America — from Nicaragua specifically. We have very busy lives in the “normal days.” I work at a nonprofit organization and I have my own little business —  a cleaning company. I have two kids: one 16 year-old daughter and a  9 year-old boy. As you can see, I have my hands full. My daughter has several different health issues and we’re required to visit different specialists through the months. We have several appointments every week. I try to balance my life by taking them to their appointments, school activities, and — you know — I’m working to provide for my family.

So with this new layer of stress that this new virus brings to our lives, we’ve been coping by cooking. For some reason in my country when you are celebrating or you are sad, you are cooking. We always get together as families and we cook and share meals. So I’ve been reorganizing my pantry, cleaning my house, cooking traditional recipes from my grandma, who’s brought comfort to our souls.

We like to go for walks — something that we haven’t done in many years. Because we were so busy taking care of our family’s needs, we didn’t have time to connect. So now we’re taking time to connect — time to be together as a family.

I’m not going to lie and tell you that we are happy. We are enjoying those little moments of happiness and comfort that we find in the mix of all this craziness and chaos. But, being concerned and scared about the uncertainty and how we’re going to provide for our family — it’s something that is affecting our mental health as parents, you know?

Some other activities that we’re doing at home is reading, music, meditation and mindfulness. We try to talk, to try to share our emotions. But we don’t really talk about fear, anxiety, and stress and how do we really feel. We don’t want to make more chaos at home, right? We want to keep some harmony and peace. We want to make sure that our kids feel secure and safe. We’ve tried really hard to be positive, be calm and enjoy the peace that this stuff is bringing —  you know — by staying at home, taking care of each other and sharing time with each other.

Something else is coming into my mind that I want to share with everybody. Not everybody struggles the same. Not everybody has the resources that they need to survive this crisis. That is something that is very concerning. I want to encourage everybody to find techniques of coping and ways to keep positive.

Debby Gravunder: Rice Lake, WI

During this time of uncertainty with the COVID-19 virus, there’s a lot to be done here at my house.

I’ve been planning a baby quilt for a new great-niece. I am finishing another quilt. I joined a virtual cooped-up quilt block of the week by my local quilt shop. Gives me something to look forward to.

I took a walk overlooking the property and looking at Bear Creek to see what animals I might see. Didn’t see any, but it was nice listening to the creek for a little bit.

I’ve baked. I downloaded a grocery app and I used it. And it works great. You don’t have to touch anybody. They don’t have to touch us.

I started seeds for large garden. I’ve been bird-watching noticing what’s coming in the neighbor’s pond. The geese are kind of ice skating on it, I notice when they’re landing.

I’ve been doing some spring cleaning, probably a bit more than what I would normally do in the spring. I still need to clean out the small greenhouse and pick up yard waste. When we were caught kind of early with the snow, I wasn’t able to take all the deadheads and all that. So I’ve got that to look forward to.

I am also still maintaining walking the dog because it’s important to get out.

We live right next to the ATV trail. It’s quiet, but we still go on the trail. We take turns and we’ll ride the ATV down the trail and just look to see what there is going on, see if there’s animals and. So that’s kind of fun, it gets you kind of out in a way. And it makes you feel good just being out there. Little chilly yet, but it still was fun.

We wave at the neighbors across the road and they wave back.

I call my sisters who live in Minnesota and check on them and see how they’re doing. We have no children at home, but they do. So they’re doing a lot of outdoor activities so that everybody can get fresh air. They can still ice skate on Lake Superior up there. So that’s that’s kind of fun right next to their beach.

Been learning about tree identification. I’ve been trying to learn a little bit more about the trees because I’m from Minnesota originally and I don’t know a lot of the trees here. So this is the perfect time to be going out and identifying the trees.

And there’s so much to do. Learn how to sew! That’s something that takes time, lots of time.

And make sure that you are in touch with family and friends.

Tom Kastle: Madison, WI

I’m an actor and musician in Madison. My day job is singing for nursing home residents and kids at libraries. Needless to say, I’m out at least two months of work at this time. Plus, the play I was in had to close early and the next play is postponed indefinitely. My office is my home, so no changes there. But because I’m a sole proprietor or business, I can’t collect unemployment. I was thinking of working for the U.S. Census, but that too is no longer an opportunity.

You know, politicians are talking about bailing out industries from airlines to casinos, but little is being said about workers like waiters, caregivers and performers from the Bartell to Broadway who help fill the restaurants and hotels after every show.

Coincidentally, I just begun a campaign to develop some voiceover work. I have extensive studio experience and a pretty good voice.

Be safe. Take care. Keep in touch.

Alyssa Watts: Madison, WI

I’ve been setting up Facetime check-ins with friends, having virtual happy hours with others and daily phone check-ins with my mom, who lives a couple hours away.

Around the house, we’ve made some spring cleaning lists and have been painting bedrooms, the bathroom.

Our dog has enjoyed the extra walks throughout the day and we’re seeing more folks in our neighborhood out and about doing the same. We all kind of wave from a distance and seem to automatically give this, ‘We’ll all get through this look’ of understanding to one another.


On Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Wisconsin Life,” we hope to do more crowd sourced stories like this in coming weeks.

Next time…what are some random acts of kindness you’ve experienced during the COVID-19 era?

You can contribute your brief story two ways:
1) Record a voice memo on your phone and email it to [email protected].
2) Leave a voicemail message at 608-263-4121.

Make sure to tell us your full name and where you live. Also, leave you contact info so we can let you know when the story is airing.


Aquí en “Wisconsin Life” en la radio pública de Wisconsin, estamos pensando mucho en nuestros radio oyentes y en cómo manejan sus vidas durante este momento sin precedentes. Nos gustaría crear breves historia de radio con voces de todo Wisconsin. Si esta interesado háganos saber:

¿Cuáles son algunos actos de bondad al azar que ha experimentado durante la era COVID-19?

Puede contribuir su breve historia de dos maneras:
1) Grabe su historia en su teléfono y envíela por correo electrónico a [email protected].
2) Deje un mensaje de correo de voz al 608-263-4121.

Asegúrese de decirnos su nombre y dónde vive. Deje su información de contacto en caso de que quiera saber cuándo se transmitirá su historia. (Gracias a Araceli Esparza por la traducción)


SONGS: “Isolation” by John Lennon

“Isolation Is Bliss” by Tame Impala

Maureen McCollum

Maureen McCollum

Maureen McCollum is the host and producer for “Wisconsin Life” on Wisconsin Public Radio and the “WPR Reports: Uprooted” podcast. Her work has appeared on NPR and has been honored with national and regional awards. She loves live music, the bluffs along the Mississippi River and eating too much cheese.

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