Northern Michigan braced for coronavirus surge that has yet to arrive

Over Memorial Day weekend, as northern Michigan reopened, the State Theater in Traverse City left a blunt message seemingly directed at out-of-town visitors. (Bridge photo by John Russell)

Public health officials can breathe a little easier: Very few new coronavirus cases have emerged in northern Michigan after the region was allowed to reopen in time for the Memorial Day weekend.

Across 32 counties in the Upper Peninsula and the top third of the lower peninsula, just 29 new cases have been reported in the two weeks since May 25, almost identical to the previous two weeks and well below the regions’ mini-surge in April.

“It’s good information. It’s promising,” said Dr. Peter Gulick, an infectious disease expert at Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. “It’s very exciting.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allowed bars, restaurants, retail stores and offices to reopen on May 22, the beginning of the long Memorial Day weekend.

There were still restrictions — bars and restaurants could only use half of their capacity — and many places served people outdoors, which Gulick said could have helped limit any potential spread.

“When you’re outside too, you tend to spread out more,” he said.

It can take up to 14 days for people who are infected to show symptoms so the numbers offer a glimmer of hope. On the eve of the reopening, Traverse City Mayor Jim Caruthers said he hoped the region could be a model for the rest of the state. Grand Traverse County has reported eight new cases since Memorial Day, and just 31 total.

Overall case counts in Michigan have steadily fallen since early April as Whitmer’s controversial stay-at-home orders went into effect and were extended, much to the anger of many, including many business owners and legislative Republican leaders who challenged her decisions in court.

Before the partial reopening, Northern Michigan residents and politicians had clamored for different, more lenient treatment for weeks, citing low case numbers across the region.

But Whitmer resisted those calls, saying the small, rural hospitals could be overwhelmed by even a modest surge and fearful that people from southern Michigan, which had thousands of more cases, would travel north to their second homes and spark outbreaks.

Then, just before Memorial Day, as case counts in northern Michigan fell to a trickle — there have only been 110 in the entire Upper Peninsula — Whitmer agreed to relax restrictions in the least populated part of the state.

Gulick said he will be keeping an eye on potential new cases that may arise from the many protests against police violence that have occurred more recently across Michigan, and the country

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Thomas smith
Mon, 06/08/2020 - 7:37pm

Is anyone really listening to the governor anymore.

Following the s...
Tue, 06/09/2020 - 10:14am

Obviously Michigan citizens ARE listening to the Governor and following the FEDERAL CDC guidelines which is why we did not have a surge in Northern Michigan after Memorial Day weekend. Remember, it’s not the Governor stupid, it’s the science. Let’s stay smart and not be stupid.

Tue, 06/09/2020 - 3:10pm

Funny this, still peddling this trope. You are aware that correlation does not equal causation, yes? New Zealand, Sweden?? Oh, and please make sure you say “science” again so we know how smart you are.

Marlene Augst
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 5:22am

Your WRONG. WE stopped following the guidelines when the checks came out. Would you like me to post the party pictures? Also FEW PEOPLE wear the mask. I've been to every open store daily, I've worked this entire time NEVER WEARING PPE and handling money every day. WE HAD NO HEALTH CARE CRISES UP HERE and most our health care workers believe it's been here since December. Mid and Northern Michigan did not practice those guidelines and yet still no outbreak.

Wed, 06/10/2020 - 1:27pm

Incorrect. Michigan was a model state for stay at home orders, and making the necessary sacrifices that the Governor got so much flak for. Everyone is now angry that they were wrong and she was right, so they blame the success on something random. Look at the states that did not follow our lead? They are experiencing gigantic surges as they re open. SC, Arizona....
Progressive Governor states like NY, Michigan, Calif did the best job.. The numbers bear that out. There should be nothing controversial about using science and experts to make policy. Be happy the protesters were wrong. Its good we know hat works and what doesnt. Celebrate it!

Wed, 06/10/2020 - 1:19pm

To be fair it IS the governor as well. Many governors chose not to make the hard decisions based on CDC guidelines. Ours did.

A Yooper
Tue, 06/09/2020 - 8:38am

Better than safe than sorry.
It ain't over 'till it's over, and there is no vaccine in the near future.
Let's not get stupid now.
Maintain the CDC's guidelines to prevent a second surge.

Marlene Augst
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 5:32am

We NEVER had a surge to begin with and we won't now. You people need to stop listening to her and research THE SCIENCE AND THE DATA as it doesn't spread the way they thought AND it has a 99.6% recovery rate and a 2% serious condition rate. Those with chronic illnesses didn't take care of themselves to begin with, so why should the country be shut down?

Gary Nelkie
Fri, 06/12/2020 - 1:31pm

Marlene - please tell us where you work. Some may want to avoid having a health and safety confrontation with you.

George Hagenauer
Tue, 06/09/2020 - 10:39am

This is not surprising as these are relatively isolated communities - the real challenge will be when the tourists arrive depending on where they come from .

Marlene Augst
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 5:35am

They are already here, they've been here. We've had businesses that REFUSED to close down, they just locked the front door and let you in through the back. My niece's factory has been open for over 2 weeks. They stopped the mask bullshit after the first few days and yet still no cases in both areas I'm talking about. Whitmer's science and data was a lie, which is why no one knows what her science and data was.

Tue, 06/09/2020 - 10:43am

Science and Data, the problem with that mantra, is that our leader wouldn't know what science and data was if it hit her upside the head

Tue, 06/09/2020 - 11:46am

I don't know when your where your information comes from. There has already been a flood of visitors or temporary residents in the Traverse City Area from in and out of state. I have been following cases by county since the start and the cases in Grand Traverse County were leveled off. In Grand Traverse County Since May 22 opening up, starting on May 26 there have been 3 new confirmed cases and from there 5/29-1 new case, 5/30-1, 5/31-2, 6/1-1, 6/2-1 new cases.
(from,9753,7-406-98163_98173---,00.html) the state can update these numbers at anytime and the numbers change as they gather information. I am not convinced that opening up is the right thing I think it has sent the wrong signal. People up there are not feeling the need to wear their masks with other people because they have been isolated and their new cases were 0 for many weeks and since May 22 they are no longer isolated. I feel for Governor Whitmer and the enormous pressure she is under. We need to be smarter than this and not jump to conclusions. Time will give us more information and I don't think we are listening to the science. I am really worried about the health care workers, safety and resources in the state especially since opening up some parts where they are seeing more cases. People still need to be very careful!

Robyn A Tonkin
Tue, 06/09/2020 - 5:50pm

I appreciated your thoughtful comment very much. My husband and I make our home in the UP, in Watersmeet township, and we also have a home that we visit once a week in Rhinelander, WI. I think it is difficult for urban "Michiganders" to understand covid 19 infection numbers and rates as they pertain to areas of Michigan that are not just rural, they are the outback. In Oneida County, WI, for instance, where our other house is located, covid 19 confirmed cases held at 8 for months. Suddenly in five days, we had 4 additional cases. Iron County, MI, where we grocery shop, had no cases. Suddenly, there are two. If someone holds a party, and a lot of people contract covid 19, our healthcare system will be strained, in both the western UP and northern WI. People just don't understand how close to "inadequate" our healthcare delivery systems are in the best of times. We drove between the two houses last week, and the crush of cars heading north on Hwy 45 between Rhinelander and the state line was awe-inspiring. Cars pullling boats, cars pulling RV trailers, motor homes, looked like "normal' used to look for start of summer tourist season. The parking lots of the bars and restaurants were jam packed, and boat ramps were jammed. My husband does the grocery shopping, as I would not survive covid 19 if I contracted it, and consequently, I go nowhere besides the other house. He goes almost nowhere and always wears the masks I make him. So many people in the grocery store wear no mask, and they don't care about social distancing very much either. We are lucky to live in the woods at our Michigan house. Our recreation is walks in the woods, where nobody else goes. We never went out much, and now we do not go out at all, and we won't until there is a vaccine, and anti-virals in case the vaccine does not offer 100% protection against contracting the virus. And frankly, we're through with the bars and restaurants we didn't frequent much anyway. I read a good piece today in which 40 epidemiologists were interviewed about when are they going to get back to "normal" in their lives, and guess what, normal will more or less return when there is a vaccine....

Marlene Augst
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 5:40am

This virus has a 2% serious condition rate, there is NO evidence our area is in danger or our healthcare workers. It's not "suddenly" we had 2 cases. It's NOW you have access to testing. The virus has been here since December according to over a dozen healthcare workers that I know

Dave Farrington
Sun, 06/14/2020 - 10:29pm

Correction, Marlene Augst— as per official State data for June 13, the fatalities to cases rate in Michigan state-wide is 9.6%. Instead of the concept notion “serious condition rate” consider top ten leading causes of death. In Washtenaw Co. three people died of flu while one-hundred died of Covid-19. The way this is going, Covid-19 is high on the top ten causes of death list.
Green Bay, WI has almost as many cases as Milwaukee. Marquette Co. leads the U.P. in Covid-19 cases and the roads linking Green Bay and Marquette, pass through the U.P. counties with the biggest case counts. I don’t wish to sound callous to people who are grieving but if eleven Covid-19 fatalities in Marquette County isn’t “evidence” to you that this deadly contagious disease poses a risk I don’t know what could. Don’t learn this the hard way. When in public, especially when indoors wear a mask.

Mark Bowman
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 9:13am

Robyn, As a couple residing in Ironwood, MI, we totally relate to your experience.

Wed, 06/10/2020 - 12:35am

If all of these cases up north came out of the people in quarantine, we have control. I wish the state would start posting contact tracing data. The absolute number of new cases isn’t helpful at this point, we need to know where the positives are coming from. Are they congregate living situations, travel related, or are they community spread, in other words, we don’t know where they got infected. If anyone at MDHHS reads this, please post the data. How can we open if we don’t know if we have continued community transmission?

Marlene Augst
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 5:18am

Because according to health care workers up here the virus has been here since December but we were unable to prove it due to lack of testing available so we WERE SHUT DOWN when they knew they had incomplete data.

Wed, 06/10/2020 - 12:51pm

"The greater the ignorance..... the greater the dogmatism."
- William Osler

Wed, 06/10/2020 - 1:17pm

Michigan is a model for other states. The South Carolinas, Floridas and Arizonas of our country (conservative states) are seeing new huge outbreaks due to their inability to make the necessary sacrifices using the excuse of "civil liberties"has backfired. Always better to follow sound scientific advice. Hopefully the fed will direct money to the states that were part of the solution not the problem.

Wed, 06/10/2020 - 6:45pm

Northern Michigan can remain relatively Covid-19 pristine if basic precautions are taken: masks by all when indoors in public spaces, proper distancing, and hand washing. These precautions are not happening enough to avoid problems in northern Michigan.

Based on recent experiences in several northern Michigan businesses, to include some major chain stores, northern Michigan is probably as big a threat for virus expansion as anywhere else.

Red pill
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 7:51pm

21+ States reporting new wave of high spikes in Covid Death Plague. Because the GOP and Trump-zis fought and protested to reopen for trickle down fantasies. Without masks or distance rules. Ironic that most dem hillbillies gonna file bankruptcy and close their little lawn mower businesses.

HERE IT COMES! Round 2 of the Spanish Flu Pt. II. Buy your plot now! Step right up folks, Hurry, hurry, don't be late. Get that burial with a view before someone else gets it.

But perfect -"IT"- says from the steps of the WH holding a borrowed bible upside down for the cameras. But only after the coward gassed the nearby peaceful protesters. Because "IT" thinks police can treat people worse than animal control treats animals.

Then IT says our military bases have good American racist names so it aint gonna change the names even tho the redneck NASCAR is 1st to remove the racist flags from their cars.

And the heartless Wall Street Casino is doing just fine with them 2% gamblers without souls. Our economy is still good even tho we aint got no jobs. But hey my 401K is still full of hot gas, floating above reality, so how shood I complain.

Nothing new to report - insanity and anarchy reigns supreme. And my small company will go broke like all the others. Gonna file bankruptcy next month; watch for that in the news - record bankruptcy filings.