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Pandemic, Year One: Katy Stager Of State College: 'The Week The World Stopped'

courtesy of Katy Stager

In recent weeks, we’ve asked WPSU listeners to share their experience of this past pandemic year. WPSU’s Kristine Allen brings us their stories.  This is the first installment of our series, “Pandemic: Year One.”  Today she talks with a mother of four who has been trying to keep her family safe while dealing with social isolation and trying to stay positive.

“When we were looking back, we kind of referred to that week, our last vacation, as the week the world stopped.”

Katy Stager of State College was vacationing in Florida with her family when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.

“You know at first it was all fun and games,” Stager said. “We were like ‘All right.  An extra week of spring break!’ But we had no idea what we were in for. I think by the end of March, when reality really set in, and we started to understand what was happening, there was a sense of panic.”

Stager is a freelance writer.  Her husband is a police officer. They have four children: ages 8, 5, 3 and 19 months. It was challenging for her family when schools went remote last year.  But COVID-19 was her biggest concern.

“We were really worried about how do we take care of everybody and keep everybody safe. There was so much… so many unknown factors at that time. It was a scary time.” 

Credit courtesy of Katy Stager
Katy Stager and her family.

Stager says her parents, who live nearby, are just shy of 65 years old, so they’re not yet eligible for a vaccine in Pennsylvania. That has her worried about them, too.

“Every day I check all of the websites,” she said. “I check all of the pharmacies, just to see if there’s some way that they can be vaccinated.”

And the Stagers have had financial worries. Her husband is a police officer at Penn State, Univeristy Park.  So there were often occasions, like sporting events, when he could make overtime pay.  But in the pandemic, those opportunities disappeared.

“And then for me, my work is freelance,” Stager said. “And I do as much or as little as I can based on our family schedule. The work that I do is for predominantly nonprofit education groups.  And with the pandemic, those opportunities for me have pretty much all shut down. So this year we’re missing about a quarter of our annual income, which has been very tough for us.”

Stager says the family has had to cut back on some extracurricular activities for the kids, due to both pandemic and budget concerns.  And they need to keep a close eye on their budget.

“It’s really forced me to meal-plan better than I used to, and to kind of map things out for us each month: where our money’s going.  And where it’s coming from.”

Another issue for the Stager family has been some measure of social isolation, due to pandemic precautions.

“We’re very careful.  We have high risk factors in our family. So we really try to pay attention to social distancing and masking and things like that.  So there are a lot of social opportunities that my kids don’t have this year.  School being the biggest one of them. We’ve chosen specific activities for them to participate in that we feel are at the higher end of our risk tolerance, but that we’ve grown to accept because we have to live.”

Sometimes, Stager said the kids miss being at school with their friends.

“We have good days and bad. W’re trying to approach it as more of an adventure. I feel like they’ve kind of picked up on that vibe.” 

Credit courtesy of Katy Stager
Katy Stager and her family.

Stager says her family has planned many outdoor adventures together during the pandemic, like hikes and getting milkshakes in the afternoon.

“Looking back on those memories,” she said, “I don’t know if we would have made such an effort to have those adventures if we weren’t in this situation.  And so that’s kind of cool.  We’ve sort of developed a new tradition, in that sense.”

When Stager wrote to WPSU, she told us her family had been forced to give up a lot during the pandemic. But she felt they had grown as much. 

“When Iook back on us a year ago, we were different people then.  We’ve really handled a lot this year, that we never anticipated. The last time this happened to society, it was 100 years ago. And so this wasn’t really even on our radar.  So I do feel like we’ve really grown.  I feel like we’ve found ways to adapt. We’re more accepting of hard times, of hard situations. And I feel like we’re much more appreciative of everything that we have.”

While Stager says she’s had more anxiety during the pandemic, she also has reason to hope.

“I do feel hopeful, as more and more people receive the vaccine,” Stager said. “That’s a step in the right direction.  And I place a lot of trust in science.  You know, we’re learning more every day.  Scientists, and the medical staff, we owe them – oh, my goodness, their bravery is just astounding. And so, we’re just trying to do our part to mitigate the risk in our area and for our family and stay positive.”

Now through the end of March, we’re bringing you pandemic stories from central and northern Pennsylvania. You’ll find this story with WPSU’s COVID-19 coverage on our website, at

Kristine Allen is Program Director of WPSU-FM. She also files feature stories for WPSU on the arts, culture, science, and more. When she's not at WPSU, Kris enjoys playing folk fiddle, acting, singing and portrait-sketching. She is also a self-confessed "science geek." Kris started working in public radio in college, at age 17, and says she "just couldn't stop."