50 men held an Upper Peninsula retreat traced to COVID. No one’s talking.

Attendees of a men’s retreat held at United Methodist Church in Pickford are at risk of COVID, but local health officials say they have no way to reach out because the event organizer won’t answer questions. The church merely allowed retreat organizers to use its facilities, and was not part of the retreat.

Who was there, how long they stayed, and who is most at-risk — it’s all unknown for health officials investigating a COVID-19 case linked to a four-day men’s retreat at a church in the eastern Upper Peninsula.

Health officials worry that many of the 50 or more men who attended the gathering are older, and may have health conditions that come with age, which makes them more vulnerable to serious illness from the coronavirus.

The biggest obstacle: Nobody in the group will cooperate with public health workers. Health departments covering five U.P. counties have been unable to learn the names of the men, or who they may have come in contact with since the retreat ended last Sunday, the officials told Bridge Michigan.

The event’s leader hung up on a contact tracer who called him. Another person who was called this week accused the health official of “working for Satan” because of her job in public health.

 

“It’s hard to get control of this virus when we can’t get the information” to alert people they may have been infected, said Dr. Jim Terrian, the medical director for the LMAS Health Department, which serves Luce, Mackinac, Alger and Schoolcraft counties, for nearly 50 years.

“This is the most peculiar situation I’ve ever seen,” he said, referring both to the pandemic and the reluctance of at least some of the public to cooperate with public health workers.

The stonewalling comes at a precarious moment for the region. Cases in the four rural counties covered by LMAS and neighboring Chippewa County jumped from 125 to 199, a 60 percent increase, since Sept. 15, according to state data.

Cases have climbed in the western U.P. as well, including areas that had remained relatively unscathed by the pandemic until now. Parts of the western Upper Peninsula are experiencing the highest rates of infections of any area in Michigan — and some of the highest ever seen outside metro Detroit.

Related stories: 

The men’s retreat was held Oct. 1-4 at United Methodist Church in Pickford, about 45 miles northeast of Mackinaw City in Chippewa County. 

Health officials say the church, which allowed the retreat organizer to use its space, has cooperated with authorities. The church follows social-distancing protocols during services and sanitized its building, including its meeting rooms and kitchen, after the retreat.

“They have been doing everything right,” said Kerry Ott, spokeswoman for LMAS. 

Pastor Tim Bashore told Bridge he had only the name of the organizer, who had contacted him months ago about the retreat. The men, who he believed came from outside the Upper Peninsula, were part of Keryx, a non-denominational, Christian program which also ministers to those in prison. They stayed overnight in the church, he said.

A Bridge message left through the Keryx website seeking comment was not immediately answered Friday.

The investigation began Tuesday when a public health nurse for LMAS contacted a local man who had tested positive for COVID. He told her that he had attended the Pickford men’s retreat. However, he would not offer a specific location or other details, Ott said.

It wasn’t until Thursday that the public health nurse was able, through another source, to determine that the retreat was held at United Methodist. When contacted by the health department, Bashore shared the name of the event organizer. But when the nurse called the organizer, he would not give up information and instead hung up on her, Ott said.

That prompted LMAS, which already has issued notices about possible exposures at Mackinac Island and its ferry service, to issue its first public alert of the pandemic warning of “high risk” exposure, since it had no other way to reach the retreat attendees.

“An infected individual was in attendance and had close contact with many of those who were there,” the alert warned, and urged anyone attending the event to call the LMAS or Chippewa health offices. 

It wasn’t just the retreat participants who were at risk. An unknown number of others — including volunteers who prepared meals — also may have been exposed as the men met in rooms and had “significantly close, extended contact in small spaces,” Ott said.  

Chippewa County health officials are also monitoring any outbreaks closely, said health officer Karen Senkus. She said most of the public cooperate with contact tracers in other cases. Any reluctance, she said, has been driven by misinformation on social media and a deep politicization of the virus.

“If this is the year you’d have a pandemic hit, it’s the worst,” she said.

Ott called the pushback against health workers, whose role is “to take care of people, to keep people safe,” unprecedented. It was Ott who was told she was working for Satan.  

The health agencies ask anyone in attendance at the men’s retreat to contact the LMAS District Health Department at 906-322-4444 or the Chippewa County Health Department at 906-635-1566.

Bridge reporter Mike Wilkinson contributed to this report.

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Comments

Anonymous
Fri, 10/09/2020 - 10:34pm

Why report an increase of cases from September 15th, if this article is about a contact tracing from an event that occured October 1st? Or give reason of why someone said something after a quote? You don't know their thoughts. I couldn't read anymore after that.

Teresa
Fri, 10/09/2020 - 11:57pm

We have seen how people in China live, constantly being traced, unable to do certain things if they don't follow the rules. We have been told how nearly everything we do online leaves info which is stored. Now we are expected to trust contact tracers in this country; something which greatly resembles China. How can anyone be surprised when there is pushback? The messages we get are many, but we get little truth. Respectfully!

Tom
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 3:30pm

You're um, so, um, "right": Got TB? Run free, Teresa. Run free.
Contact tracers have been working to assist Michiganders for 100 years, since before Communist China ever existed.
Respect.

Rick
Mon, 10/26/2020 - 1:12pm

Thanks. It's a shame you have to say what you said but some people still don't get it. After 220,000 have died. Will they ever get it? (logic, safety, the welfare of our community, not COVID).

TRUMP FLU
Sun, 10/11/2020 - 6:28pm

What are they hiding, their "faith"?

mw
Tue, 10/13/2020 - 8:42am

People who say contact tracers "greatly resemble China" are ignorant about what actually happens in China and ignorant about the role of contact tracers. These people also ignore the fact that not only do we have very lax contact tracing requirements in the US compared to MOST other countries, the countries that are succeeding in controlling COVID are countries with a robust testing AND contact tracing strategy.

Jim C
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 2:14am

Were the men friends of Jerry Falwell Jr or Lee Chatfield's dad? Lee's dad had about 200 packed maskless protesters at the Michigan Capitol a few days ago, didn't he? I thought conservative Christians would be more honest, tell the truth about the seriousness of disease and sin. Guess law and order, either by civil or religious laws, have subjective meaning.

LH
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 3:08pm

Please don't paint all conservative Christians with the same broad brush. Most of us would never accuse a contact tracer of "working for Satan," or refuse to cooperate. This sounds to me like an extreme and isolated case, and of course these are the types of incidents that make news. I cannot imagine something like this happening in the conservative, evangelical church I attend, or any of the other local churches I am familiar with.

Behind Closed Doors
Thu, 10/15/2020 - 10:24am

After Hillsdale sex scandal, we can all see why churches don't like contact tracing.

Capstone
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 5:57pm

Question:
Was this conservative group of 50 men, a gay group? Inquiring minds want to know!

Don
Sun, 10/11/2020 - 7:57am

LOL!!! Read the history of the church!!! Very bloody>>> Remember that the churches backed Hitler>>>
And the black plague started after the CHURCH said all cats were evil and people started killing cats!!!!
No cats you get rats who have fleas that carried the disease!!!
The churches have been against education for over 2000 years!!!!

Al
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 7:00am

This is the worst year for the pandemic to strike but nevertheless it is here. We need to keep up the mask, distancing and disinfecting protocols but we also have to be realistic in our expectations . Some of The population is going to get covid and the numbers will go up and down. Some will die . We have to watch out for the old and the infirmed the closest but we have to push on. We cannot retreat into our homes forever because that’s when the virus will win. The vaccine or other treatments will not be a factor for several months, even if it starts being administered today!! Be safe, wear masks , distance but let’s move ahead. Counting the cases and reporting them each day is of no value at this time. The death count remains low and the hospitalizations except for a few places also remains low but the same can be said yearly for the influenza. One year from now, this will all be just a bad dream

Don Schmittdiel
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 7:24pm

The virus isn’t even alive. It’s a strand of information. It has no agenda and so can’t ‘win’. The only wise response is to avoid all situations you can that increase risk, and do all you can to protect others from yourself, because you could be an unwitting carrier. And cooperate with health professionals trying to protect us. Make it to the vaccine!

Trust Issues
Sun, 10/11/2020 - 6:21pm

Al, you must work for the RNC with that tired nonsense. Give our regards to Ronna. Saw her on TV this morning running roughshod over the journalist trying to interview her, Republican style like a broken record player. Remember those? Reminded me of the Trump "debate" and the Pence "debate". American seniors used to vote reliably for Republicans, but this time they are more trusting of Uncle Joe. 60% of Americans don't trust Trump on COVID-19!

Rick
Mon, 10/26/2020 - 1:15pm

Ronna is a joke at this point. A sad joke.
Did you see here trying to flog the Hunter Biden money trail thing? Utterly pathetic. Laughed out of the studio on Fox News! The GOP is utterly incompetent at ANYTHING now... Just close up shop and go away for a few years so we can clean up your monumental mess.

mw
Tue, 10/13/2020 - 8:50am

This would work if we could actually get people on the right to actually wear masks and take the proper safety precautions. The fact that we still have people who, instead of complying with mask requirements, scream at employees for having the audacity to tell them they need to follow MDHHS orders tells us that we are going to be fighting this pandemic for a lot longer than necessary.

Ann H Fisher
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 11:43am

I hope someone is also reaching out to the Department of Corrections about the upcoming events Keryx has scheduled, including one in Marquette this coming week.

EB
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 11:59am

The Republican Party, the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower, no longer exists. They've transformed into the Trump Party: the party that believes "deficits don't matter", the home for antiscience folks, autocrats, oligarchists, gun nuts, populists, fascists, white supremacists, homophobes, xenophobes and misogynists; a party that detests social cooperation.

The 50 virus spreaders described in this article, who obviously detest social cooperation, would be welcomed into the Trump Party with open arms.

Arjay
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 4:50pm

I am a proud conservative. I don’t believe I am any of the items listed. I have read that it is the democrats that are always asking for more stimulus cash to apply to things that are not covid related, like mismanaged pension plans and past debts. The Democrats proudly say that if you want their opinion, you will have to elect them, as the speaker of the house said with the ACA, and the current presidential candidate said about his position on Supreme Court packing. So please, take your TDS to other forums, and leave Bridge for meaningful discussions.

I knew Eisenhower
Wed, 10/14/2020 - 2:34pm

YOU ARE NO EISENHOWER!
Any true conservative would admit the ACA under Obama saves us money and covers more people. That's why most Americans love it. The GOP sabotaged the ACA, Mitt Romney's idea just to line the pockets of insurance companies! The GOP wants the US to spend twice as much as other industrialized countries with worse results. What's so conservative about that?

Bobbie West
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 4:59pm

If they can jail news people for not sharing sources I see no reason to allow these types to skate away.Some jail time sounds like EXACTLY what they need.

Give Peace a Chance
Thu, 10/15/2020 - 10:17am

Let's not forget how Trump also gassed journalists and peaceful protesters to pose with a Bible for a photo op.

Johnny Willis
Sun, 10/11/2020 - 10:31pm

Yeah! Right! Don’t think so!

Arjay
Mon, 10/12/2020 - 3:12am

I am a proud conservative. I don’t believe I am any of the items listed. I have read that it is the democrats that are always asking for more stimulus cash to apply to things that are not covid related, like mismanaged pension plans and past debts. The Democrats proudly say that if you want their opinion, you will have to elect them, as the speaker of the house said with the ACA, and the current presidential candidate said about his position on Supreme Court packing. So please, take your TDS to other forums, and leave Bridge for meaningful discussions.

mw
Tue, 10/13/2020 - 9:15am

The biggest differences right now between the two sides is the same as it always is when it comes to these sort of things; Republicans want more money and protection for big businesses, while Democrats want more money and protection for individuals, small businesses, and local governments.

It's worth noting that Trump's constant flip-flopping on if he will sign any stimulus bill before the election has caused talks to stall multiple times.

Fonson
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 12:43pm

"Keryx works from a decidedly strong Christian perspective of love for fellow man, but participants need not be Christian to attend."

Really? Were is that love? Knowingly spreading disease is the poster child of an evil act of satan, not the act of loving Christian. I was taught by Christ that you should put others before yourself. I wear a mask for you, please wear a mask for me.

Mask Up!
Sun, 10/11/2020 - 6:27pm

With all the homophobia in many strict churches and the prevalent abuse scandals in church communities, one has to wonder if these all-male gatherings are providing cover for some closet cases to mingle discretely, claim they can't be traced because it violates their religious freedom.

Wondering
Mon, 10/12/2020 - 3:39pm

Excuses for laying on of hands?

plichtman
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 1:54pm

You probably know this already. There is a list of leaders of all the groups in Michigan at the bottom of this page: https://www.keryx.org/events-calendar.html. It sounds like the one who hung up was probably scared.

Tom
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 3:24pm

The caption: "The church MERELY allowed retreat organizers to use its facilities, and was not part of the retreat." Seriously? Does the church merely plan on requesting donations when they conduct funerals, as well? Every facility I know has demands that must be met for use: they include limits on size; observing smoking, fire and other safety regulations. Why would the requirement for ventilation, physical distancing and masks during indoor meetings be any less important (indeed, more) and the church legal liability for not insisting on their observation any less? Or is this a church administrative body that touts, "Know Jesus. No Mask." Go ahead. Wash your hands ostensibly and tell us you're "Doing the most good [for your flock]." Do you run a private school as well? Get your act(s) together.

Toasty
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 5:43pm

This is what you get when there is a garbage education system and underserved population for so long. It's what most of the Southern USA sees on a daily basis.

Toasty
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 5:43pm

This is what you get when there is a garbage education system and underserved population for so long. It's what most of the Southern USA sees on a daily basis.

Shellbell
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 7:14pm

I would like to comment on Eb’s remark. This is definitely NOT the Republican Party of Lincoln or Eisenhower. Can you imagine Trump freeing the slaves?? Take a good look at the Mexican border! When Ike was president, corporate taxes were between 80-90% (increased educational benefits, free driving school for your children, free sports in school, better roads and, let’s not forget the expressways!! Our fearless leader dump, oh, I mean trump, just slashed corporate taxes to an all time low of 28%!!! If you’re 60 or older, you remember the good old days.
The Pandemic...It’s a tragedy...There’ll always be non-believers, unfortunately, until someone they love dies...Keryx:(

Tiger
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 8:00pm

Burn the church to the ground.

Be civil
Thu, 10/15/2020 - 10:22am

No, just hold them liable for the medical bills of all the people affected.

Don
Sun, 10/11/2020 - 7:51am

But their god and king trump will save them NOT the Doctors!!!

Gary Lea
Sun, 10/11/2020 - 7:54am

Some prisoners ministered unto by Keryx could be pathological and determined to retaliate, should their friends or family members attending / exposed become permanently disabled or die; besides, 'snitching' would be bad publicity for Keryx.

Cindy Dutcher
Sun, 10/11/2020 - 8:24am

I live near Pickford, and there is one thing these inconsiderate folks have not thought of, this will for sure keep me and many other people I know from going to Pickford to shop or for any other reason. These men have actually put public safety at risk. Heck if Chatfield and Shirkey had just let the governor keep things shut down for another month or so we would not even have had the virus up here. I am not
surprised at this since it has been very clear to me that the Republican agenda is clear: money means more than life or health.

LkOrion
Sun, 10/11/2020 - 11:18am

As Bertolt Brecht wrote of East Germany’s ruling party:
Would it not be easier
(In that case) for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
If you were told you had three days to live, would you continue to alienate friends, family, neighbors because the president, without scientific guidance, told you to? Would you continue to aid a parties power grab, because they have a self-profiting ideological agenda? Do you really believe your loyalty to them is reciprocated?

FELICE ELISCU
Sun, 10/11/2020 - 11:55am

This is promising.
Hopefully no body cooperates with “contact tracers”.
This is America.
If you like masks go live in China!
*if your wearing a mask you’re protected so who force it on others?

mw
Tue, 10/13/2020 - 9:17am

So much for the party of "law and order."

Anonymous Mansp...
Sun, 10/11/2020 - 5:54pm

I would have hung up too. You people put more emphasis into a virus that continually proves to be less fatal than the media likes to admit. You don’t care about the alarming rates of suicide, alcoholism, drug overdoses, domestic abuse & many other pertinent complications/medical necessities that deserve just as much attention. Most of us don’t mind wearing masks & practicing social distances.. it’s the fact that many of you hyperbolic shills believe we should all give up our liberties, privacy, etc in the name of an illness that appears to be almost a “deadly” as influenza. I’m not trying to undermine the concerns/precautions we should all be taking, but I’m tired of the government picking winners & losers, telling us what we can or can’t buy at the grocery store, placing burdensome limits/regulations on businesses which ultimately hamper their income, the loss of jobs due to govt limitations, determining which businesses are “essential” & which are not—My job is just as “essential” as the next person’s.. I have to put a roof over my head & food on the table as well. I can’t run my job or business at 40-50% capacity. Who’s going to pay my bills? Pay my workers? After months of this nonsense, I think we know enough to manage our lives a little differently, but it’s figuratively impossible to keep our economy functioning by allowing the government to hamper the function of business. Stimulus checks, unemployment, & other welfare programs will not be sustainable. We can’t just keep borrowing & printing more money.. We’re going to send ourselves towards a likely irreversible economic depression if we keep going like this. I think people are getting sick of the nonsense. Dr. Fauci & nearly all of the medical experts have been steered us wrong on multiple occasions. He’s supposed to be the leading virologist & infectious disease expert, yet I just see him towing the lines coming out of the WHO time & time again. And if you think Biden would handle this situation any better than Trump/Fauci/Birx, you’re a fool. The most crucial failure was Dr. Fauci telling us not to buy or wear masks. It wasn’t until April that he reversed his decision, which ultimately caused catastrophic spread. Biden & just about every Democrat & mainstream media outlet called the shutdowns unnecessary. We all know Biden said they transportation to & from his bankroll friends in China were “xenophobic” & “racist.” So, who are you people kidding when you say Biden would have handled this better?! Malarkey!

mw
Tue, 10/13/2020 - 10:27am

"Most of us don't mind wearing masks & practicing social distances"

- Wasn't there just a right-wing rally in Lansing for people who want Michigan "unmasked"?

"[...]in the name of an illness that appears to be almost a “deadly” as influenza."

- The "no more deadly than the flu" BS has been fact checked to oblivion and proven that COVID is more deadly than the annual flu. The only people still pushing this lie are the President, Fox News, and Trump loyalists. Please tell me when in the past 20 years has the number of flu deaths in the US has ever exceeded 100,000, let alone 215,00+. Hint: The CDC tracks this - https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/past-seasons.html

"I’m tired of the government picking winners & losers, telling us what we can or can’t buy at the grocery store, placing burdensome limits/regulations on businesses which ultimately hamper their income, the loss of jobs due to govt limitations, determining which businesses are “essential” & which are not"

- Aside from the fact the government has always placed limits/regulations on businesses and has always told people what they can or can't buy at the grocery store, the only limits I've seen at the grocery store during the pandemic were imposed by the store for high-demand items. Also, there's this belief that if we open up 100%, things are just going to magically go back to normal and movie theaters, restaurants, bars, etc. will suddenly be packed. Even places like Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Texas, etc. that have reopened are still seeing record levels of business closures.

"Stimulus checks, unemployment, & other welfare programs will not be sustainable."

- Neither are the massive corporate welfare programs espoused by the right. Multinational and publicly traded corporations received millions in forgivable paycheck protection loans and used those loans to pay dividends to shareholders, pay executive bonuses, and buyback stocks. At least the money from stimulus checks and unemployment actually makes it back into the economy and doesn't just boost stock prices or bottom lines for investors.

"The most crucial failure was Dr. Fauci telling us not to buy or wear masks. It wasn’t until April that he reversed his decision, which ultimately caused catastrophic spread."

- This was due to a PPE shortage and (at the time) a lack of research on the efficacy of surgical and cloth masks. Plus at the time it wasn't clear how the virus spread. Science changes with research and discovery and once more was known about the virus and the efficacy of masks, his recommendation changed. But since you mention confusion about masks, lets talk about how Trump is STILL downplaying the efficacy of masks. He made fun of Biden for wearing one at the debate earlier this month and he still doesn't require masks at his rallies. Lets also talk about how he spent months pushing for widespread use of hydroxychloroquine when there was no research to back up his claims. When double-blind clinical trials showed the drug had no effect and might actually harm patients, instead of accepting the science, Trump doubled down on its use. Trump has attempted to undermine the experts on every recommendation that he personally (or politically) didn't like, regardless of what the actual science said.

"We all know Biden said they transportation to & from his bankroll friends in China were “xenophobic” & “racist.”"

- There is this "alternate history" where Trump "completely" shut down the border to everyone traveling from China but that simply isn't true. Trump shut down travel to China but only for Chinese nationalists and only to Chinese nationalists traveling directly from China to the US. The AP reported that around 8,000 Chinese nationals and foreign residents of Hong Kong traveled to the US AFTER the ban was imposed. https://apnews.com/article/355a58005d4f7c57978f6b7cba5dbd82
Also, by the time he implemented his travel restriction, we already had cases in the US. In February, as cases were rising around the globe and starting to increase in the US, he did nothing but publicly tell people it will all go away and is no worse than the flu while taking woefully inadequate steps to protect Americans.

Biden is at least listening to the science and his campaign is leading by example when it comes to masks, social distancing, and limiting gathering sizes while Trump is holding events that literally turn into super-spreader events due to a shocking lack of even basic precautions.

Bless You!
Tue, 10/20/2020 - 3:23pm

God bless you for your patience and truth-telling.

M C
Mon, 10/26/2020 - 10:10am

People who do not comply with basic public health responsibilities and contract the virus should waive their right to medical care. Protect our front-line workers and spare a hospital bed and vent for someone else.

Maquita L Brown
Wed, 10/28/2020 - 12:27pm

Hi