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WUPHD to Modify COVID Approach, as Cases Multiply

COVID-19 numbers in the western Upper Peninsula continue to rise.

Since the last report was issued Monday evening, the Western U.P. Health Department has reported 132 more confirmed positives across the five-county region, 40 more probable positives, and two more deaths.

Ontonagon County is hardest-hit, with 52 new confirmed positives. At a special meeting yesterday, Chief Medical Officer Kate Beer told Health Department board members that many of those are at a long-term care facility…

“Ontonagon Long Term Care – as of yesterday morning, 29 out of 32 residents were positive in that facility.”

Houghton County has 33 new confirmed positives. Baraga and Gogebic Counties each have 24 new confirmed positives, with Gogebic recording another death. Keweenaw County added no new confirmed positives, but did experience one death.

See the latest report here.

At that special Health Department meeting yesterday, Beer told board members it’s easy to see why rates are spiking…

“A majority of people are not in compliance with masking, social distancing, following just general rules and common sense.”

Contact tracing designed to alert people to possible exposure has become frustrating…

“We are spending tons of time trying to get ahold of people, and they never call us back, or they hang up on us.”

With the focus almost exclusively on COVID control, other Health Department responsibilities, including restaurant health inspections, and flu and childhood vaccinations, have been pushed to the background.

And so, the approach will change. While COVID-19 remains the top priority, Beer said contact tracing will be handled almost exclusively by employees who have been hired expressly for that purpose, with money provided by the state.

Regular staff members will spend most of their time catching up on their usual duties.

That means repeat calls to potential victims who don’t respond may be reduced. Extraneous questions about health information that don’t relate directly to controlling the spread of the disease will be dropped…

“We’re not giving up on COVID mitigation. We’re just refocusing our efforts on mitigation that’s going to work.”

Beer said the Health Department staff has done an extraordinary job trying to keep up with all the extra responsibilities.

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