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.”
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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