The coronavirus is the closest thing to a worldwide shared experience since World War II. Very few areas of the world aren’t being affected in some way by the virus and by COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes. The Rockford Register Star is reaching out to Rock River Valley natives throughout the world to discover how their lives have changed.
Brooke Schoening Wahlquist, an Auburn High School graduate from the Class of 1994, is a project manager in public affairs for Cirque du Soleil in Henderson, Nevada.
How did you end up in Las Vegas and in that profession? More than 20 years ago, I came to Vegas for a weekend visit with some friends and happened to meet an amazing guy who also was from Rockford. I took a chance that he could be the one and moved here. Luckily, I was right. We will celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary in May.
The chance I took also helped my career in entertainment. I was a box office manager in Chicago. When I arrived in Vegas, I jumped into more box office and marketing work with Jam Theatricals and The Second City, who had partnered to bring sketch comedy to Las Vegas. I was the supervising producer of The Second City Las Vegas at the Flamingo on the strip for seven years.
When the 2008 recession began many Las Vegas shows felt the hit early and my position was eliminated and the show closed. I watched the city navigate the drop in tourism only to thrive again as the clouds cleared in 2010. I had my eyes set on working for Cirque du Soleil and found a unique position as their project manager in public affairs, managing community partnerships and events that created artistic outlets for their Artists and staff.
How long have you lived there? I’ve lived here for almost 21 years. I moved here in the summer of 1999. I guess I am truly a local now.
When did you first hear about the coronavirus? I first heard about coronavirus in January as it was impacting Cirque touring shows and their resident show in China.
When did it begin affecting your life? I remember in February making a quick weekend trip back to Rockford to see family and being much more aware of washing my hands and not touching as many common surfaces while I flew from McCarran airport to Rockford. While in Rockford there wasn’t much discussion about coronavirus, but I do remember my mom asking me while watching the news “do you think this is going to get bad?”
My response was “maybe but we’ve seen outbreaks before — SARS and Ebola — and the country managed.”
Not long after I returned to Vegas I started seeing the touring shows start canceling cities and the show in China close. March 11 would be my last day at Cirque and only three days later on March 14 all six of the the shows on the Las Vegas strip stopped production. Me and more than 1,200 of my colleagues are either out of a job or temporarily laid off until an unknown return date.
What is life like for you now? My husband is in law enforcement so although our son and I are at home he has had to keep to his normal schedule. His routine helps us get through the week although we are nervous about the exposure risk he has everyday.
Our school buildings are closed as well as any non-essential businesses so we are homebound.
We are able to go on walks, bike rides and swim in the backyard. I am extremely grateful to be able to go outside. I try to only do grocery store runs when we are in need of a lot of items so every couple weeks we make a trip.
We are encouraged to wear masks although it is not required yet. Although the major visitor areas to recreational spots like Red Rock and Mt. Charleston are closed, there are many bike paths and desert trails that can be found outside the city that allow for exploration.
What did you miss doing on a daily basis that you never thought you'd miss? I’ve been thinking a lot about this since all this quarantine time has allowed for so much personal reflection. I miss the ability to simply run out to the store to buy those one or two items I need for either a recipe or a random desire. The act of impulse spending is definitely suspended for now but may also be a permanent.
Now, I analyze the pantry to figure out meals for the future so that the occasional trip to the grocery store is worthwhile and I’m finding more DIY projects around the house to spruce up what we already have around.
I appreciate knowing this now about myself as I have always tried to be happy with what I have and this time is helping me improve my values.
I miss seeing friends in person, however. I’ve found that I am actually making more time to call family and friends now than I did before the world went on pause. I’ve managed to meet a couple of folks for socially distanced walks and take a few long bike rides to have a quick chat in the driveway of loved ones.
The mayor of Las Vegas was on national news recently advocating to reopen the economy there. How do you feel about that? Oh boy. While I understand that this is hurting thousands of my neighbors, I disagree with Mayor (Carolyn) Goodman. And it was very alarming to hear her say she doesn’t have to have a plan that’s not her job.
As a leader that is an absurd statement to make. She doesn’t have to have THE plan but she should be participating rather than blaming and shaming those that are trying to lead us.
Governor (Steve) Sisolak has been a strong leader for Nevada during this unprecedented time and I continue to trust that he will help us through with the help of all the experts he has gathered to advise him.
I’m hopeful when I see companies like Wynn Resorts and Venetian present their plans for new health and safety measures at their properties. For me, it shows that companies are being proactive and putting in place the necessary measures to resume operations when the time is right.
Have there been any positives? While my husband continues to work, I’ve been helping our 12-year-old son with distance learning. As a sixth grader he is able to work independently for the most part and I get to add to the experience.
So far we have done a lot of baking and have begun piano lessons. I learned how to play at his age but had not touched the piano in our house for many years. The ability to refresh my skill and teach him the basics has been priceless. Until now even with work life balance I was not able to make time for this so it is a wonderful gift that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Have you lost anyone close to COVID-19? I’ve had a few friends test positive for COVID-19 and recover. Fortunately, I do not personally know of anyone who has passed. There are many of my loved ones, including my husband, who are essential workers, and I pray for their safety every day. My heart breaks for those who have lost loved ones.
How do you think life might change when this is over? I feel the new normal will include innovations in hygiene products and tools to help us have less contact with public surfaces. The practice of working from home will be even more common than it was prior to March of 2020.
My hope is that new laws will help employees and employers navigate stricter “sick policies” that allow employees to not have to use vacation time or lose pay when they are ill. So many of us, including myself, have worked through illnesses because we feel like we can’t or shouldn’t take a sick day. For me, this response will change for certain going forward.
For Las Vegas, this is once again a game changer. I’ve seen this city survive the 2008 recession and the 1 October tragedy. I know this city is resilient and will be thriving again in the future. Las Vegas is so much more than the Strip, we have many innovators among us in technology, arts, culture, science and business. The city will reopen stronger and safer, ready to endure whatever obstacle that world throws at us next.
Alex Gary is a freelance correspondent.