Michigan’s latest COVID-19 hotspot? The Upper Peninsula.
The Upper Peninsula recorded its biggest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases this week. In response, Houghton County Schools will close face-to-face instruction starting Monday for a two-week period. More outbreaks have been noted in Iron, Menominee, and other counties in the western U.P.
Houghton County has the biggest spike of cases, with 10-20 new cases a day over the last few days according to Cathryn Beer, health officer for the Western U.P. Health Department. In the jurisdiction, there have been 135 recorded cases in less than a week.
“We are very concerned about the continued increase that we’re seeing,” Beer said.
The health department has received calls from U.P. residents concerned with the spike in COVID-19 cases, mask enforcement, and testing availability. Residents are calling in worried about many things, including businesses operating without enforcing the governor’s mask policy. Beer said it's not as simple as shutting down an establishment. Instead, the department works to educate residents and business owners about the risks of coronavirus infection and the emergency mandates in place.
A few months ago, Beer said, it was easier to social distance because of stricter mandates. But in small towns where communities are tight-knit, people are going to gather for special occasions, such as weddings and funerals, so it's easier to spread the disease to one another.
One of the health department's biggest worries is whether hospital staff will remain healthy.
“A lot of our community workers are essential workers. So as cases spread within our area, it takes out a lot of our hospital staff, a lot of our nursing staff, a lot of our aids. All of our long term care facility staff are impacted by any case, whether it’s a positive or they're in close contact with a positive because they get pulled out of the system,” Beer said. “So it’s more of a staffing concern.”
Some patients with more severe symptoms have been moved to larger hospitals. If the situation gets worse, Beer said, they may need to ask the state for additional resources.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan.