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U.P. virus rates highest of pandemic

ESCANABA — The Upper Peninsula has hit its highest rate of COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, according to state officials. A representative of Public Health, Delta and Menominee Counties (PHDM) spoke about potential factors behind the spike in cases.

“The Traverse City, Jackson and Upper Peninsula regions all have under 20 cases per million people per day, but they have also all seen a steady increase in cases for the past two to three weeks. It’s important to note here that the Upper Peninsula, which had previously seen consistently low levels of cases, is now seeing the highest rate of cases seen throughout the entire pandemic,” said Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Thursday during a livestreamed press conference with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

PHDM Health Officer Michael Snyder said case numbers have grown in Delta and Menominee counties over the past two weeks. As of Thursday, July 9, the Upper Peninsula had 240 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 18 deaths caused by the virus.

Delta County had a total of 26 confirmed COVID-19 cases, four probable cases and three deaths; Menominee County had 31 confirmed cases and one probable case; and Schoolcraft County had seven confirmed cases.

Elsewhere in the peninsula, Alger County had three confirmed cases and one probable case; Baraga County had five confirmed cases; Chippewa County had 15 confirmed cases and one probable case; Dickinson County had 15 confirmed cases, one probable case and two deaths; Gogebic County had 10 confirmed cases, one probable case and one death; Houghton County had 24 confirmed cases and three probable cases; Iron County had six confirmed cases and one death; Keweenaw County had one confirmed case; Luce County had three confirmed cases; Mackinac County had nine confirmed cases; Marquette County had 84 confirmed cases, one probable case and 11 deaths; and Ontonagon County had one confirmed case.

In Snyder’s opinion, a number of factors played a role in the increase.

“I think it’s a product of a few different issues. One is that people are moving around more because of the nice weather,” he said.

The fact that there is a larger number of people in the U.P. now than was the case during the spring likely contributed, as well.

“The seasonal residents have returned, so there’s more people now in the U.P. and more travelers coming to the U.P. to vacation,” Snyder said.

Other elements Snyder said could have played a role in the increase include the lifting of Michigan’s stay-at-home order, reduced mask-wearing in public, and higher numbers of large gatherings during the summer.

At UP Health System — Marquette, which previously had limited visitation hours from 1 to 6 p.m., visitor restrictions were re-implemented until further notice Wednesday in response to growing numbers of COVID-19 cases. Some exceptions — including exceptions for pediatric patients, obstetric patients and those receiving end-of-life care — may apply.

Whether or not the state puts coronavirus-related restrictions back into place in the Upper Peninsula, Snyder asked local residents to keep basic safety tips in mind.

“I would just like to encourage the public to wear masks when out in public and to avoid large gatherings,” he said.

People should also continue to wash their hands thoroughly and practice social distancing.

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