Michigan’s Upper Peninsula getting hit hard by surge of coronavirus cases


Counties in the western Upper Peninsula, some without hospitals, are battling rising cases of the coronavirus. (Shutterstock)

Counties in the western Upper Peninsula, some without hospitals, are battling rising cases of COVID-19, with the region experiencing the highest rates of new infections of any area in Michigan — and some of the highest ever seen outside metro Detroit.

In September alone, Houghton County had nearly four times as many cases — 244 — as the 66 it had recorded in the first five months of the pandemic.

Delta County saw its cases more than double in September. It recorded its sixth and seventh deaths on Thursday, said Michael Snyder, health officer for Delta and Menominee counties.

Snyder said 11 Delta County residents are in hospitals in Delta County or in northeastern Wisconsin. That’s up from an average of one or two on a typical day a couple of weeks ago, he said.

“What we’re seeing in Delta and Menominee counties is a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases,” Snyder said.

Heightened case counts have also hit Iron and Dickinson counties.


In Houghton County, many of the new cases are tied to college students at Michigan Tech University in Houghton, but now those cases have spread into the community where students shop, work and recreate, said Kate Beer, health officer for the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department that covers several counties.

“Houghton is the real hotspot right now,” Beer said. “It was [students at] Tech but now we’re seeing community spread. [Students] work here, they shop here; their relationship extends beyond the campus borders.”

So far, the demography of the new infections, typically younger students and some grade-school students in a couple of counties, has helped limit the impact on the region’s health-care system, Beer said.

Younger patients with COVID-19 have tended to require hospitalization less frequently. But many are still going to the emergency room: state data show the Upper Peninsula has had one of the highest rates recently of COVID-19 emergency room visits.

What worries Beer is if those young cases start moving through the community and start reaching the most vulnerable. Almost all of the Upper Peninsula has a higher percentage of senior citizens than much of the southern part of the state and they are more prone to poor outcomes. The median age of the state’s 6,700 deaths has been 77.

“I’m getting a little concerned if we see more of a spread into our vulnerable population, our elderly population,” Beer said.


From March until July, there were under 150 cases total across the vast, 15-county region of the Upper Peninsula. Northern Michigan politicians called for — and ultimately got — some relief from some of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the disease.

But infections in the U.P. started to rise in July, when there were 351 cases, many of them in Marquette and Gogebic counties. In August, there were 467 new cases. And in just over three weeks, there have been 825 new cases in September, including 84 new cases reported just Thursday in five western U.P. counties.

Snyder and Beer both noted the region’s cross-border traffic with Wisconsin, where restrictions imposed by the governor were struck down by the state Supreme Court, allowing bars and restaurants to reopen. 

That led to rising cases (Wisconsin set records for the number of cases and hospitalizations this week) that have steadily moved north out of Green Bay and, now, across the border into Michigan. Many Western U.P. residents work in Wisconsin, and shop and go to bars and restaurants there.

“It was like a wave northward,” Snyder said.

In raw numbers, the coronavirus case counts are low compared to cases recorded in some counties in the southern part of Michigan, such as Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties. But the U.P. counties are sparsely populated, and also have comparatively few health care facilities, which are spread across the region.

The Upper Peninsula has recorded about 180 cases for every 100,000 people in September. That’s the highest rate in the state, edging out the nine-county region that includes Ingham County, where there have been over 1,200 cases at Michigan State University alone, and Lenawee County, which has seen an outbreak at Adrian College.

Since March, that rate has only been exceeded a few times, and most often in metro Detroit, where tens of thousands of cases led to the loss of thousands of lives in March, April and May.

Since Sept. 1, the rate in metro Detroit is about 100 cases per 100,000 people.

There have been outbreaks reported at two Menominee County public schools, and Snyder said there have been cases, not necessarily linked so not considered an outbreak, at other schools.

Both Snyder and Beer said they are working with schools, most of which are conducting face-to-face classes, on ensuring safety. And they’re working with their peers on potential solutions, while keeping an eye on personal protective equipment for health care workers.

“We’re trying to figure out the next step right now,” Beer said.

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Timothy simpson
Fri, 09/25/2020 - 9:16am

I would love to see these reports we always hear. What you say in you comment section sure is not letting me have my free speech. And is no worth even using your plat form. This is against my It’s additional rights of free speech because you’re censoring anything I have to say what kind of free speech is that in your pride take this post down but I’ll check to make sure Free sandpaper if you don’t have somebody to make a comment that is the truth if it isn’t what you like to hear you call it biased

Diane Manetz
Sun, 09/27/2020 - 12:14pm

Tim, I don't understand most of what you wrote, but I think you are suggesting perhaps that your opinion will be censored? Well, your post is barely readable but it's still here. I wish you'd have calmly written your post so I could understand your opinion. As for the reports you want to see, do some homework. Please, do go get them, read them for yourself. They are available. I have yet to not be able to find the referenced data here, most of which they provide on a daily basis. There are a multitude of legitimate sources out there for additional data. The evidence, once read, is overwhelming:
1. We are in a pandemic.
2. People die from this at a much higher rate than flu.
3. Deaths have declined due to a younger population driving infection rates and the improvement of treatments in hospital.
4. Wearing a mask is very effective at controlling spread. So is social distancing.
5. You can infect people for days before you are experiencing symptoms and some people are effectively asymptomatic. That means they are sick for up to a couple weeks and infecting people the whole time if not taking precautions.
6. Places where people worked together to be safe and follow the guidelines have both lower rates of infection and death, and their economies are thriving.
7. Recently, CDC indicates that just following safe practices, even without a vaccine, could subdue this virus and let us get back to our lives, something that everyone wants on both sides of the political argument.
8. There is no nationally coordinated subversive attempt to lie to people about the pandemic. It is real. It is still happening here and all over the world. We are definitely getting hit harder than just about any place on the planet. The misinformation in our country is making it exponentially worse. Its also pitting us one against the other by creating fear, panic and feeding prejudice.

Tim, I say, let's be good neighbors. Let's keep the discourse on the facts and do so in a good, neighborly way. Let's follow the mask and distance guidelines, which no one enjoys, to protect one another and ourselves and restore our nation.
Anger and Fear isn't helping us at all.

amy clickner
Fri, 09/25/2020 - 9:24am

Keep in mind the statistics add the student cases without adding the students to the overall population count. This skews the number. This was pointed out to the states epidemiologist who agreed it needs to be looked at.

Sun, 09/27/2020 - 12:39am

The total population of the UP is about 310,000 people. The total student body of Northern, Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State added together is only about 16, 000, so about 5% of the total population of the U.P. It took me 10 seconds of of web searching to find these numbers, they're not a secret. Adding in a student population doesn't change anything. Compare that small change in population to the change in number of cases: 150 cases March through June, 351 in July, 467 in August, now 825 in the first 3 weeks of September. Good luck up there, you need it.

Kelly Sailor
Fri, 09/25/2020 - 9:41am

I would love to see the stats of how many people in July-August crossed the Mackinaw bridge into the UP. We vacationed up there in August and the numbers of cases in your article seem very low almost insignificant to the number of people who traveled there this summer. Having that number (and the State of Michigan has the number-everyone pays the bridge fare) would be an important metric in understanding the real dynamics of Covid transmission which I suspect is very very low.

Fri, 09/25/2020 - 10:06am

Sadly the message only resonates when the deaths increase. They're coming, only later, as the cases increase.

Fri, 09/25/2020 - 10:25am

This is sad, but not a surprise. The virus is very predictable, unlike the president who has the support of these poor people. The efforts to "downplay the virus" is akin to a concerted effort to commit senicide or geronticide, the killing of the elderly, or their abandonment to death, cut Medicare legacy costs/put the economy first. Trump said we should free Michigan. As far back as March, Republicans like Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested that senior citizens should risk a painful death by COVID-19 in order to keep the economy humming for the younger generation.

Fri, 09/25/2020 - 11:51am

People from Southern Michigan, where the bulk of the Covid has struck, ran to the UP in great numbers this summer to escape the problems in S. Michigan. The people of the UP did not welcome this influx and actually wanted to close the Big Bridge to all but commercial traffic, Gov. Whitmir would not allow it, thus we see the results,,surprised???? I love the paradise that
is the U.P,,even in Winter. :)

Sun, 09/27/2020 - 12:26am

Did any of of the Republican legislators you sent to Lansing speak up about that?

middle of the mit
Sun, 09/27/2020 - 11:16pm


I AM NOT going to let you get away with that! You better check how our legislators in Northern MI and the UP were calling for opening up EVERYTHING, especially north of US-10 BECAUSE we had lower cases, yet NEVER asked for their to be a travel ban.

Take it up with your State legislator. They wanted you open! Just like they wanted the nursing homes open! They have never hid that fact! The Press, including this publication just NEVER REPORTED THAT IS WHAT THEY WANTED!

So much for a liberal press..........huh?

Both sides THAT!!

Fri, 09/25/2020 - 12:42pm

Re: UP Covid
Many people ventured over the bridge for safe camping only to find large crowds on the beaches and in the parks. Tourism has flourished despite the covid, now unfortunately they are paying the price.
Sent our son back to MTU, he has kept us abreast of the situation up there. He is trying to stay away from campus as much as he can and does as many livestreaming classes as possible, but needs to go in for labs.
The Houghton hospital is very small, I cannot imagine how they would cope with a influx of patients from Covid. Marquette is 2 hours away and although they have built a new hospital, I cannot imagine how they would cope with 2 large university's students being ill.
I am hoping that MTU and NMU will not cancel as they will be sending their pupils back home to the parents that cannot afford to get sick. I heard that they suspended a student for not sheltering in place for 14 days after testing positive. I doubt he will see his tuition reimbursed, but I guess the university needs to be tough to get the students to comply.
I wish them all good health!