For some, 2020 meant the loss of a loved one, a job or the ability to go to school. For many healthcare workers, it meant long, exhausting hours spent battling a virus in extremely sick patients. For other people, it meant staying home, avoiding gatherings and missing loved ones. And many had to go out in the world — to work as first responders, in supermarkets or at other jobs we all rely on.

But this year, everybody in Massachusetts was somehow impacted by COVID-19.

GBH News reporters, producers and hosts spent 2020 documenting those pandemic stories. Here’s just some of what happened in a very busy year.

A pair of surges

The first COVID-19 case in Massachusetts was confirmed on Feb. 1, and the first death in the state was the following month. Since then, more than 311,000 people in Massachusetts have been infected, and about 11,500 have died.

Case numbersbegan spiking in the spring. By May, the state was seeing between 2,000 and 3,000 newly confirmed cases a day. That went down in June and stayed lower through the summer.

But by the fall, thingsstarted getting worse. By late September, the percentage of COVID-19 tests that were positive had risen to roughly 3.5%, from about 2% earlier in the month. The number of Massachusetts cities and towns considered in the high risk “red zone” had also nearly doubled in a week.

As the year comes to a close, the state is seeing between 5,000 and 6,000 newly confirmed cases a day — twice what it saw during the May surge. That's likely in large part because we're doing far more testing now than we were in the spring. The hospitalization and death rates are still lower than they were in the first surge. But the number of patients in the hospitals has been steadily increasing since October, and the death rate is on the rise, too. Public health officials worry holiday gatherings could lead to a spike in the already-high case numbers.

Vulnerable populations

People of color have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, both in the number of infections and in the severity of outcomes. In April, Dr. Joseph Betancourt of Massachusetts General Hospital told GBH News that 35 to 40 percent of COVID patients admitted to the hospital were Latino. And the disparities are clear in data from the COVID Racial Data Tracker.

Early on, it also became clear that people living in various kinds of congregate care settings were among the most vulnerable.

Nursing homes took early steps to prevent infections, but those proved unsuccessful, with more than 6,000 residents of the state’s elder care facilities dying in the pandemic.

Among the worst outbreaks was at the Holyoke Soldiers Home, where more than 75 residents died, prompting a federal investigation and state legislation. Homes for people with intellectual disabilities also saw outbreaks of the virus. Prisons and immigration detention centers were vulnerable, too.

Homeless shelters were hit hard early on in the state’s spring surge. In early April, the city reported one in three homeless people tested were positive for COVID-19. At the same time, the pandemic made it harder for homeless families to to access state aid.

Shutting down & reopening Massachusetts

On a statewide level, things seemed to get real on March 15, when Gov. Charlie Baker announced he was closing all public schools for three weeks, banning visitors from nursing homes and assisted living facilities and prohibiting more than 25 people getting together in any single room — including in gyms and theaters. Indoor dining was banned in all restaurants. By March 18, all early education and child care centers were ordered closed, too.

The shutdown was especially devastating to small businesses like beauty parlors, barbers, small hotels and independent movie theaters like the Brattle and the West Newton Cinema.

Performing arts organizations and local theaters suddenly found the curtains closed, leaving them in financial peril. A relief fund was set up to help artists who couldn’t work because of the pandemic.

Among the industries hardest hit were restaurants.

“We are all hoping and praying that the government's going to come in and bail [restaurants] out,” chef Ming Tsai told GBH News back in March. “We're very good for bailing out big businesses, [but] we have to bail out the small businesses this time.”

That hasn’t happened.

The state has made a number of investments over the year to try to slow the economic damage, including a $10 million small business loan fund early on in the pandemic, a $13 million relief fund for local foundations and community organizations in April, a $275 million relief package for cities and towns in June, a $1.1 billion COVID-19 spending bill in July and another $773 million relief package in October. Boston set up its own resiliency fund. After the new federal stimulus compromise was sealed, Baker announced a new $668 million grant program for business relief last week.

The governor’s decisions this year about what businesses must shut down and which could stay open have received mixed reviews. In May, a poll showed 84% of Massachusetts residents approved of Baker's response to the pandemic. But some critics said the state acted too slowly.

Two months after the shutdown, Baker released a phased plan for reopening the state’s economy. As businesses began reopening in June with new safety precautions, the world looked like a very different place. A lawsuit alleging Baker had overstepped his authority in issuing the shutdown order was heard by the state’s highest court. The court ruled in the governor’s favor in December.

After case numbers began rapidly increasing again in the fall, calls started getting louder for Baker to roll back the state’s reopening plan.

In early December, Baker did just that — cutting indoor capacity in most public indoor areas to 40% and limiting indoor dining to six people at a table. That move was met with an understated “golf clap” by some health experts, who felt the governor should have been much more restrictive.

The following week, Boston, Somerville, Newton and Brockton announced they were imposing restrictions beyond what the state was requiring.

In late December, fearing another holiday spike like one seen after Thanksgiving, Baker went further, lowering capacity limits for most businesses and places of worship to a maximum of 25%, limiting outdoor events to 25 people and limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people.

An epidemic of unemployment

With the shutdown came major disruptions to the labor market — and to people’s lives.

Businesses scrambled to figure out how to survive in a whole new environment. Many institutions shut down factories or closed their doors for good. Even if they did manage to stay open, many places cut their workforce.

All of this meant that the number of people filing for unemployment shot up. In a typical week before the pandemic, somewhere around 7,000 people in Massachusetts applied for unemployment benefits. In the four weeks after the lockdown in March, more than half a million people in the state filled jobless claims.

In April, unemployment in the commonwealth hit a high of 16.8%, and the state's unemployment system was swamped. As high as the numbers were, they didn’t count everyone. Initially, some people — like barbers — didn't easily qualify for unemployment insurance. Eventually, the state rolled out a new system that included benefits for the self-employed, contractors and workers in the “gig economy.”

The dire situation was also reflected in state’s public assistance programs — such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children program — which saw huge increases in the number of applicants.

Nonprofit food banks saw an unprecedented rise in need while, simultaneously, working to adapt to new guidelines about safety and contagion in a pandemic. There were also efforts to make sure the newly unemployed had access to health insurance and secure housing, neither of which was a guarantee.

The federal government tried to help with stimulus checks and a weekly boost of $600 on top of state unemployment. This helped many stave off poverty. For others, it created a surprising dilemma: They could make more receiving unemployment benefits than they could working.

But those $600 checks didn’t last. For many, the stress of unemployment was compounded by the anxiety and whiplash of watching as Washington, D.C., debated new stimulus plans, including help for the unemployed.

Teaching and learning in a new era

At all educational levels, the pandemic has caused a major learning disruption and required entirely new approaches to teaching.

After the initial shutdown left K-12 classrooms off-limits toward the end of last academic year, some districts brought students back while others have remained fully remote.

Still others are using a hybrid approach, with some students in the classroom and others learning remotely. While allowing for greater social distancing, that model has presented challenges. In remote classrooms, schools have seen absentee rates as high as 12%, and many are trying to track students down.

Remote learning has presented significant challenges, especially in districts like Revere and Lynn, which have fewer resources. It also hasn't been easy for parents working from home. There’s been a lively debate over the last year about whether the value of in-person learning outweighs concerns over the possible spread, with teachers, in particular raising questions about whether classroom ventilation and filtration is sufficient. The Baker administration has pushed for remote learning to be a “last resort.”

With everything changed, the stakes for high school seniors are especially high. In our “COVID and the Classroom” series, GBH News has been following students to find out how COVID-19 is impacting them, shaping their futures and playing out in their communities.

Massachusetts’ colleges and universities have also had to frantically adapt to this new reality, adopting remote learning technologies and setting up robust testing systems for students on campus. It’s also been a financial stress. Read a complete wrap-up of GBH News’ coverage of higher education during the pandemic here.

The virus’ toll

The first death in Massachusetts officially attributed to COVID-19 was reported on March 20. By the close of 2020, more than 10,000 people have died of the virus in the state.

Behind that enormous number are real people, and their communities are still processing the loss. There was the couple that was married for 67 year and died three days apart, both from COVID. There was the gregarious father who was about to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary. More stories of some of those lives lost this year can be found here.

Even when patients have recovered from the virus, they’re often still carrying its effects with them. So-called“long haulers” continue to deal with a range of persistent symptoms. From muscle pain to brain fog to exhaustion, the long-term consequences can be debilitating. Experts are still trying to figure out the science behind these long-lasting symptoms. And even coronavirus patients who are fully recovered have struggled with mental and emotional challenges.

The pandemic has also placed a particular burden on on the elderly, who are especially vulnerable to the virus, and their caretakers. For example, for those who already faced the daily challenges of caring for loved ones with dementia, the pandemic has only made things harder. In an effort to stave off isolation and depression, one independent living facility created a socially-distanced hugging booth.

For many feeling stranded at home during this pandemic, the toll on mental health can't be calculated. For some, that means coping with mounting anxiety and stress. One nationwide survey found anxiety and depression was on the rise among younger adults because of the pandemic. Many feltoverloaded as the lockdown wore on and limits on socializing stretched from weeks into months.

For those already in hard situations, the pandemic often made things worse. Indeed, experts worried that the coronavirus meant even more isolation for those experiencing domestic violence. It made it even harder to get away from an abusive partner and reduced the safeguards in place. Others have suggested the pandemic could cause an uptick in divorces.

From lives lost to lives irrevocably altered, the coronavirus and its consequences have touched everyone in Massachusetts.

Testing & tracing

Knowing who’s infected with COVID-19 has always been a key to preventing its spread. But from the beginning, widespread testing has been a challenge in the state. Hospitals started setting up drive-through testing sites in March, but Massachusetts didn’t have enough tests to meet the need, especially for first responders.

By May, Baker said the state had the capacity to conduct 30,000 tests a day, but regularly fell far short of that because of supply chain issues related to necessary materials and transportation. Hospitals across the state were having to postpone surgeries because they couldn’t get the reagents necessary to conduct tests, so they didn’t know if their patients were infected.

Later in May, Baker pledged to dramatically expand testing, with a target of 75,000 tests per day by the end of the year. That’s a goal that was met. In the final weeks of 2020, the state was averaging more than 85,000 tests a day. However, there have been persistent concerns about how long it can take to get test results.

In July, free testing sites were set up in some of the communities hardest hit by the pandemic. And in August, Massachusetts joined with six other states to buy millions of rapid antigen tests.

Many sites wouldn’t test people who weren’t showing symptoms of the virus. But as case numbers began to increase again in the fall, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced several testing sites in the city specifically intended for asymptomatic people.

In April, Baker received national press and praise for launching the “COVID-19 Community Tracing Collaborative” (CTC). Partnering with the global health care nonprofit Partners In Health and local boards of health, the CTC grew to several thousand contact tracers.

Following a common public health strategy, the contact tracers reach out to every person who tested positive for COVID-19 or might have been exposed and help them isolate themselves. For many of the contact tracers, this was hard, emotional work that left them worrying about those they’d spoken with on the weekends and afterhours.

Contact tracing is extremely labor intensive. In the first six months of the CTC, the state spent $66 million on the effort. It also relies on widespread and rapid testing. As COVID-19 cases surged in the fall and winter, some experts began to questionwhether this effort was the best use of limited resources. However, the state has continued to invest in contact tracing.

An unprecedented healthcare challenge

The pandemic has put a significant stress on Massachusetts’ healthcare system and on the doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who care for patients. At the peak of the spring surge, nearly 4,000 people were hospitalized at one time.

Nurses saw it coming. “We are bracing ourselves for what we're calling a tidal wave of patients,” Tufts Medical Center operating room nurse Mary Havlicek Cornacchia said in March.

In April, the state took steps to double the number of intensive and emergency care beds to deal with that tidal wave. That included setting up field hospitals in Worcester and at the Boston Convention Center. Those field hospitals were closed after hospitalizations fell, but they started opening again in the fall as the state saw another spike.

The pandemic put a significant financial strain on hospitals and community health centers.

For many healthcare professionals, the surge was a scary and lonely time. Some chose not to work because of the risk. For the thousands who did see COVID-19 patients day after day, it was an intense and exhausting challenge. Some found themselves drawing parallels to, and lessons from, their own experiences responding to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Like the rest of the nation, hospital workers in Massachusetts didn’t have enough masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment to keep them safe. A system was set up to decontaminate N-95 masks so they could be reworn more safely.

Over the year, we’ve been hearing directly from many healthcare workers about their experiences. A nurse in the Berkshires described wearing the same N-95 mask every day until it fell apart. An ICU nurse at Tufts Medical Center described caring for “the sickest group of patients” she’d ever seen in her 30 years on the job. A nurse in Cambridge, who had the virus herself, described feeling anxious as case numbers increase again in the fall. A speech pathologist quarantined in an RVin her driveway because of exposure to infected patients. And chaplains at MGH and at the Hebrew SeniorLife nursing home spoke about finding ways to provide spiritual care for patients and staff.

Every healthcare worker in the state has their own story, as the pandemic has challenged them both professionally and personally.

Staying safe

Avoiding infection has meant that ordinary people have had to change their routines and really focus on things most never imagined could be so important. Among the most obvious changes is the need to wear a mask. In July, GBH News reporters took an informal tally of how many people were wearing masks at various spots around the state and found that most were taking masks seriously. While masks have been shown to reduce the spread of the virus, they present a significant barrier to communication for those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

We’ve also learned what it means to “socially distance” from one another, even on holidays, and had to consider carefully everything from the safety of public bathrooms to who we include in our inner circle. We’ve started paying attention to things we never thought of before, like the quality of air filters in our workplaces and schools. We started going to drive-in moviesagain. And we quit some habits like nail-biting, which weren’t so good even before the pandemic began.

One habit many of us picked up this year, whether we like it or not, is Zoom. The video-chat program has allowed some to work remotely, but it doesn’t work for some jobs, like those working in industrial settings. On top of work calls, Zoom has been a “saving grace” for some people's social lives.

A light at the end of the tunnel

The development of vaccines has been a local story in Massachusetts, with Cambridge-based Moderna developing a vaccine, which it manufactures in Norwood and in Portsmouth, N.H. Pfizer made the messenger RNA for its vaccine at its facility in Andover. Waltham-based Thermo Fisher Scientific is making freezers to store the vaccine.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital was one of the leading centers behind the Moderna trial, and hundreds of Boston-area people volunteered to take the experimental vaccine. The researchers worked to get as diverse a group of study subjects as possible in order to understand how the vaccine works in different racial and ethnic groups.

Egregious examples of exploitation of Black people throughout the history of clinical research have led to hesitancy and distrust about the vaccine among some in the Black community, including some elected officials. Health officials and community leadersare working to rebuild that trust, but some say more needs to be done to engage the Black community and to ensure that communities of colorhave access to the vaccine.

In mid-December, frontline healthcare workers were at the front of the line to get the vaccine, with doctors and nurses at Tufts Medical Centeramong the first in the state to get vaccinated. Even just within the state’s hospitals, the rollout is complicated, and at Massachusetts General Brigham, the initial distribution became a chaotic “free for all.”

As the line for vaccination forms, some argue vulnerable populations like incarcerated people should be among the first, although that’s led to some controversy.

A successful national distribution of vaccines is crucial to ending the pandemic and will likely be among the most important stories of 2021.