The first full year under the COVID-19 pandemic is ending in the Coulee Region, and the illness remained a cause of concern throughout 2021.
At the start of the year, about 60 people in La Crosse County had died from COVID, and the total has risen to about 140 now.
In January, area schools and colleges started bringing students back to the classroom, after months of remote learning.
La Crosse Schools Superintendent, Dr. Aaron Engel, said parents were very concerned about safety rules, including mask use and social distancing in classrooms.
Area schools also had spring football games to make up for cancelling contests the previous fall.
Rules aimed at fighting the pandemic in the workplace led to some protests in the La Crosse area, as COVID remained a major news story during 2021.
One such protest involved Gundersen Health System declaring that workers who didn’t get a COVID-19 vaccine would be fired.
Roughly 1 percent of all Gundersen employees reported being fired for not being vaccinated by the Nov. 1 deadline.
Occasionally, there were also anti-mask protests at sites like Mormon Coulee Road and Highway 16 near Valley View Mall.
One such rally happened in April, to celebrate a court ruling striking down the Wisconsin mask mandate.
During the year, public COVID testing sites began to shut down as the pandemic waned, only to re-emerge late in the year as variants took hold.
Also, 2021 will be remembered as a time when many traditions, like local festivals, came back. La Crosse’s concerts in the park, such as the Moon Tunes series, returned after a year off.
Riverfest and Irishfest returned in the summer, and Oktoberfest and the Maple Leaf Parade were back after skipping a year.
The pandemic also brought a surprise tourist attraction to La Crosse, when the state high school basketball tournaments moved championship games away from Madison and Oshkosh to the La Crosse Center.