'COVID-19 turned our lives upside down': Milwaukee's mayor reflects on historic year

NOW: ’COVID-19 turned our lives upside down’: Milwaukee’s mayor reflects on historic year

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is looking back on the challenges, struggles and successes of the past 15 months in a new video. 

Barrett and others talk about how the city has responded to the pandemic, social justice, violence and other issues in the video called "Reflections of a Historic Year." 

"COVID-19 turned our lives upside down impacting us in ways no one here had ever experienced," Barrett says in the video. "It brought down hundreds, and hundreds of people lost their lives: our neighbors, our friends and our family members. It brought lengthy, serious illness for others."

The video features interviews from Milwaukee community members including a nurse, restaurant owner and member of the Milwaukee Health Department. It sets a different mood from Barrett's usual "State of the City" address.

CBS 58 asked the mayor and other city leaders to reflect on the year.

"The last year has been the most challenging year I've ever had as an elected official," Barrett told CBS 58. "From the pandemic to the economic tsunami to the fight for racial justice, it really has been a tumultuous year."

"When you think about the last year, what one word or phrase would you use to describe it?" CBS 58's Rose Schmidt asked several city leaders.

"Challenging. And I would go a step further: challenging beyond belief," Barrett said.

"Limited," said Steve Baas of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

"Unbelievable," said Peggy Williams-Smith, president and CEO for VISIT Milwaukee.

"Painful," said Derrick Rogers, director and program manager for 414 LIFE.

The mayor reflected on the COVID-19 pandemic ripping through the city, halting the very industries Milwaukee is known for.

"It was absolutely devastating," Williams-Smith said. "We were supposed to host the DNC. It was supposed to be the year of Milwaukee. We lost everything."

"I think businesses learned how fragile the economy can be but also how resilient their businesses and their workforces can be," Baas, who is MMAC's senior vice president of governmental affairs and public policy.

Milwaukee also experienced a movement for social justice, and a spike in homicides and shootings as people struggled with the conditions of the pandemic.

"Tensions are brewing, things escalate, violence occurs and then retaliations come on the back end of that," Rogers said.

Community groups like 414 LIFE are even more focused now on stopping violence before it begins.

"It's about anticipating it: analyzing it, getting in front of it and then building relationships to say, 'Hey, how can we stop this from happening?'" Rogers said.

But all four leaders emphasized that good things are coming.

"We have Irish Fest. We have Mexican Fiesta. We have State Fair. We have Summerfest," Williams-Smith said.

"If I were going to pick one thing that has allowed us to start getting a life back to normal, without a doubt, I would say the vaccinations," Barrett told CBS 58.

CBS 58 also asked the four leaders to use a word to describe the way they're feeling heading into the next few months.

"Optimism," Baas said.

"I'm hopeful," Rogers said.

"Growth,"  Williams-Smith said.

"Optimism, tremendous optimism," Barrett said.

Barrett also said the COVID-19 infection rate is the lowest it's been since the pandemic began. He hopes more people get vaccinated and things continue to move in a positive direction.

Watch the video below: 

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