Upper Peninsula man nearly killed by COVID. He still doubts the data.

President Trump has downplayed COVID-19. Dwaine Taylor, who nearly died from it, said he will vote for him anyway. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

It was too politically convenient, what with the Democrats in need of a distraction, retired papermill worker Dwaine Taylor thought.


And really, here in the isolated splendor of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, who could know what truly happened with a virus that escaped from a place called Wuhan, China?  

Taylor thought all these things right up until the moment, on Sept. 22, when medical staff wheeled him into an otherworldly, negative-pressure, intensive care unit as he struggled to catch his breath. 

As COVID-19 burned through the Upper Peninsula last month, moving north and east from the Wisconsin border and filling up local hospitals, Taylor — a big man with a love for the outdoors and his big family — became the 290th confirmed COVID-19 case in Delta County.

It presented a paradox for a man who still has plenty of questions about COVID.


While the 63-year-old Taylor is now a COVID data point himself, he remains skeptical of what he hears through the media, particularly the number of U.S. deaths linked to the virus, which on Friday afternoon was just under 230,000 people. 

“There are a lot of people who don’t beat it,” Taylor acknowledged in an interview this week at his kitchen table. “But a lot of them had underlying conditions. The virus might have weakened them, but it probably didn’t kill them.”

While Taylor will avoid family gatherings during the holidays to protect his elderly mother from the virus, he plans to pack into deer camp soon with his buddies — hunkering down in a cabin for days hunting and sharing burgers, venison sausage and pickled eggs. 

And despite nearly dying from a virus that President Trump has repeatedly downplayed, Taylor will walk into his township hall on Tuesday to cast his vote for the president. As Taylor’s own experience makes clear, COVID is complex, but so is politics. 

“All I can tell you is, when you sit in a room for 24-7, you do a lot of thinking,” Taylor said, intermittently tapping his fingers on the table and checking on his Shih Tzu, Buster, asleep under the table.

He recalls a doctor at OSF St. Francis Hospital & Medical Group in Escanaba asked him for permission to put him on a ventilator. There was some talk that he’d be transferred to a bigger hospital elsewhere. Other health conditions — his diabetes, along with his age — could complicate his case.

He wondered if he’d ever see his grown children again or his wife, Debbie, whose brilliant blue eyes first dazzled him more than 29 years ago.

Yeah, he’ll admit: “It was scary.”

But he decided as well: “I’ll put on my mask, but I’m not going to be a prisoner in my home.”

Another world

Such contradictions may not be unusual in Michigan’s rural Upper Peninsula, where for much of the pandemic the coronavirus was merely an abstraction that struck big cities elsewhere, but not people they knew.

Especially after summer tourists disappear, leaving long ribbons of highway quiet again, the sun rises and falls on empty shorelines during the day and masses of evergreens along rural stretches become impenetrably black at night, their edges illuminated only by the moon.

In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the rest of the world can seem so far away, say Brittany Zellar and Olivia Holmberg, both 23, who were visiting their hometown, Manistique, this week. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

“You don’t feel the rest of the world has anything to do with you here,” said Olivia Holmes, who was catching up with a high school classmate, Brittany Zeller, at a Manistique bar this week. The women, both 23, were back in town for the weekend — Holmes from Ohio and Zeller from Iowa.

Neither of the bartenders was wearing masks on this night. Nor were the more than dozen patrons as they strolled out.

“I don’t think it’s a problem here,” Zeller said of COVID-19, adding more bluntly: “It’s a bullshit thing.”

The data tell a different story.

Taylor’s case in September was part of a surge in cases that have racked Delta County, along the U.P.’s southern edge, for more than a month now. As of Wednesday, Delta has confirmed 1,120 cases — over 800 more than when Taylor’s case was recorded more than a month ago.

That spike helped jack up the case rate throughout the Upper Peninsula.

For more than a month, the Upper Peninsula’s infection rate has exceeded 365 cases for every 100,000 residents — that’s more than three times the rate in metro Detroit over this period. 

Michigan Technological University temporarily moved to online learning, as did several local school districts. COVID spread at a fish fry in Alger County, sickening dozens of people and killing at least one Alger County man. A COVID case at a weekend church retreat in Chippewa County worried local officials when the organizer, they said, wouldn’t cooperate with contact tracers trying to warn the others of a possible exposure.

Meanwhile, the death rate in the Upper Peninsula has climbed to five times the death rate in metro Detroit, where earlier this spring, the virus ripped through workplaces, neighborhoods and families. 

Yet for all of this, skepticism toward COVID in some U.P. areas has only deepened, in part, because COVID had steered clear of the U.P. for so long.

“We didn't see it, and so people got comfortable and said ‘You know, it's really not that big a thing,’” said Mike Snyder, longtime health officer at Public Health of Delta & Menominee Counties. 

These days, more residents are taking social-distancing precautions, he said. Signs on storefronts require patrons to be masked.

But Snyder also sees longtime neighbors and friends in grocery stores without a mask, despite relentless messaging to wear them.

He tries to educate them, but he’ll let it go if there’s a threat of a confrontation. He worries about his staff. 

When residents are contacted by the health department in its effort to stop the virus’ spread, some take to “yelling at the nurses and complaining that we're ruining their lives,” he said.

COVID-19 left Michigan’s Upper Peninsula relatively untouched for months, falsely reassuring residents, said Mike Snyder, health officer of the Public Health of Delta & Menominee Counties. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

White hot fury

Just a few miles from Snyder’s office in Escanaba, Taylor said he doesn’t remember when he first felt sick. He’d first shrugged it off as a cold or a mild flu. 

But then came body aches and chills.

For three days at his home, he was barely able to move from his bed except to use the bathroom or to let Buster into the backyard. His fever spiked, and he nearly punched the headboard of his bed. 

“It messes with your head,” he said.

His wife, Debbie, was at the couple’s Arizona home when he became ill. Taylor called his daughter, a local teacher, on the morning of the 22nd. 

“I’m really bad,” he told her. As she called an ambulance, Debbie booked a flight home.

For days, medical staff at OSF St. Francis Hospital drifted in and out of Taylor’s room. With visitation banned, Taylor’s iPhone threaded him to his children and to Debbie.

With Buster snoozing at his feet this week in the kitchen, Taylor’s eyes brimmed with tears as he recalled those conversations. 

He recalls his children telling him they loved him. He drifted in and out of sleep. He stared at the walls and TV. He would remain hospitalized for nine days. 

The day before he left, he was wheeled into a new room with a tiny window opening — maybe six inches, he estimated. Autumn had begun to crisp up the outdoors, he could tell. It felt extraordinary. 

“It’s the little things that you don't learn to appreciate until you get out of that room,” he said.

Now more than a month since being hospitalized, Tayor’s diabetes has been thrown out of whack, and his heart needs rechecking because of COVID. The few dozen steps to the apple trees in his backyard are exhausting on some days.

He said a couple of his relatives no longer talk to him. They used to have coffee nearly every day, and now they accuse him of possibly spreading COVID; other relatives still dismiss the virus as not a big deal.

Dwaine Taylor remembers thinking the same thing. 

“I did. I thought it was a joke.”

But he’s also just a regular guy, he said — and that means admitting to a mistake. It means he’s still undecided on a lot of what he hears, but he knows this for sure: He’ll never forget struggling to breathe as he battled COVID. 

“It’s out there,” he said. “It’s real. I’ll tell everyone who will listen to me.”

Bridge reporter Mike Wilkinson contributed to this report.

Debbie Taylor was at their second home in Arizona when an ambulance rushed husband, Dwaine, from their Escanaba home to be treated for a COVID infection. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

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Charles Rondeau
Sun, 11/01/2020 - 8:51am

I can imagine how people in the UP could easily think that COVID-19 was some sort of hoax. This past summer we spent the weekends at our sailboat in Bay City. Despite club rules banning ‘advertising’ on yacht club property, there were plenty of pro-Trump flags on boats. Not saying that these folks are typical of all people in this part of Michigan, because I did see a good number of pro-Biden lawn signs in the area. I sure hope that my Northern Michigan neighbors don’t continue to doubt that COVID-19 is a very real danger.

Sun, 11/08/2020 - 4:13am

I moved to the UP from New York City a few months ago where I saw covid up close and listened as my friends who are nurses there told stories of watching their patients dying slowly in front of them as they struggled to breathe while there was nothing they could do. These nurses are heros who cried themselves to sleep at night. Now the general attitude here in the UP is vastly different. Varying from covid isn't real, covid is just like a bad cold, wearing masks doesn't help, and other ridiculous statements like this. Its like "we've gotten lucky so far...". But I fear the blasse attitude is going to be a detriment to UP residents as cases continue to rise and people continue to resist the truth that covid is real and can kill you and your loved ones. It ironic, but I almost felt safer in New York City. FYI, I quarantined when I got here and tested negative for covid recently.

Sun, 11/01/2020 - 9:19am

Michigan is full of peckerheads like this guy who still think the earth is flat. You don't need to look any further than the Republican dominated legislature in Michigan to find more of these like minded Neanderthals. It's time for the majority in Michigan to take our state back ! Vote on Tues.!!!!!

Mon, 11/02/2020 - 7:29pm

Wow, Anonymous... You blame everything one one party. You call anyone who doesn't agree with you a neanderthal. You have very little compassion or empathy for anyone other than yourself. Your intolerance is quite sad and rather disturbing, and it makes me feel sorry for you. Believe it or not, not everyone is going to agree with you on every issue. And that's just fine. Before you judge someone, try to put yourself in their shoes. Realize that it's alright when people don't agree. It may be difficult for you, but try to have a little respect for all people.
I hope everyone goes out and votes on Tuesday. Everyone! That's the beauty of our system. Everyone has a right to vote. Even all of those "neanderthals."

Sat, 11/07/2020 - 9:49pm

It's hard to have empathy and compassion towards science deniers and people who think the virus is hyst going to magically disappear. And Republicans are the party of the deniers. If something as simple as wearing a mask in public can save lives and people don't do it because they think it infringes on some imaginary right then you've fallen into a twilight zone of ignorance and dangerous behavior.

Sun, 11/01/2020 - 1:04pm

Has Dwaine learned from the virus. Obviously not, still voting for the LIAR and misleader of the Covid-19 facts president. Some folks just can't get over the con job I guess. This man was quite lucky to have his daughter call and send an ambulance for him. Maybe some people just never grow up and learn like Joe Biden explains we all need to get serious. Follow all the guidelines that Dr. Fauci endorses with the precautions of mask, social distance, stay outside and not inside etc. If not for yourself than for others. We all have to work together to beat this virus so keep your selfish stupid independence to yourself. Thank you.

Sun, 11/01/2020 - 1:32pm

It's people like him that allow this thing to continue. Those people who died would have lived more minutes if not for COVID, so yes, they died from COVID, not their underlying issues. Living in America we all have underlying issues so downplaying COVID deaths due to underlying issues makes no sense. Especially to those who have lost loved ones to this virus. Statistics are probably too low because there are people who have died who weren't officially diagnosed but had all symptoms and probably had COVID. Saying Dems use COVID as a distraction is really ignorant. But hey, continue to vote for the biggest distraction of all time.

Sun, 11/01/2020 - 3:01pm

Brittany Zellar, visits from out of state, refuses to wear a mask and believes COVID is a hoax.

Do you want to spread the virus? Because that’s how you spread the virus.

Jeremy P
Tue, 11/03/2020 - 12:57pm

Yeah, don't they feel guilty for community spread?

Sun, 11/01/2020 - 3:07pm

To add, the restaurant in which the two women were visiting is Tap 21 in Manistique. The owner has refused to enforce mask wearing not only for patrons but her own staff. Very disappointing.

Dumb T-Rump
Sun, 11/01/2020 - 3:51pm

He got the hoax virus and will still vote for the hoaxster in chief. One closer to herd 'mentality.' Ignorance is bliss with this crowd.

Sun, 11/01/2020 - 4:39pm

I'm glad your better but according to your trump buddy there's no virus so you were never sick.

Sun, 11/01/2020 - 5:36pm

It's still a liberal hoax duh.

Lotta Phools
Sun, 11/01/2020 - 5:50pm

They won't believe until "Q" tells them to believe.

Sun, 11/01/2020 - 6:38pm

Cases are irrelevant, it's the deaths that matter. And the deaths rate is similar to the flu... If you're healthy you'll be fine.

I call BS
Mon, 11/02/2020 - 7:05pm

Then why are 230,000 Americans dead this year?

Mon, 11/09/2020 - 12:31pm

Well, in large part, because a huge number of American suffer from underlying conditions. Far too many of us are obese, a risk factor in itself. Obesity and inactivity lead to other health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Add in smoking, alcoholism, etc., along with the placing of Covid patients in nursing homes, and it explains a lot. How many people who maintained a healthy weight and diet, exercised regularly, etc., have died from Covid? Some, but the majority of the deaths and severe complications have been among those with underlying conditions.

Sun, 11/01/2020 - 7:32pm

I wonder how the Yoopers would react to a "downstate" person being skeptical that any place in Michigan could get more than 200 inches of snow in a single winter. Impossible! Just because you don't see it or experience it (snow or virus) doesn't mean it won't happen.

Jr stanwick
Mon, 11/02/2020 - 6:44am

Looking at the National death toll on the CDC website, I don't see any significant difference between this year and the last three years. Beyond that it is barely different

I call BS
Tue, 11/03/2020 - 1:01pm

Prove it with a cite.

Coronavirus vs. Flu Deaths

COVID-19: There have been approximately 1,207,975 deaths reported worldwide. In the U.S, 231,566 people have died of COVID-19 between January 2020 and November 3, 2020.*

Flu: The World Health Organization estimates that 290,000 to 650,000 people die of flu-related causes every year worldwide.

The COVID-19 situation is changing rapidly. Since this disease is caused by a new virus, the vast majority of people do not yet have immunity to it, and a vaccine may be many months away. Doctors and scientists are working to estimate the mortality rate of COVID-19, but at present, it is thought to be substantially higher (possibly 10 times or more) than that of most strains of the flu.

*This information comes from the Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases map developed by the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Mon, 11/02/2020 - 7:40am

333 inches the first year I went to MTU in 1988. It's a different world up there. I met people that didn't own decent cars but had brand new snowmobiles because they got more use out of them. It's probably different now with the internet but, back then, you might as well have been in the deep south; just cold.

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 1:02pm

Now it's seems to be "deep denial".

Mon, 11/02/2020 - 7:56am

I love these folks. Got big mouths until it hits them then they're the first in line at the hospital. Same as the jerks that "ride out" the hurricanes, until they're on their roofs crying mama, mama help me. Then the ADULTS have to risk their lives to save their stupid carcasses. Same old story.

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 1:04pm

Yep, they're hard guys until they aren't and WE have to bail them out with OUR tax dollars.

Sun, 11/01/2020 - 9:16pm

He must be another delusional Trump Supporter.

Mon, 11/02/2020 - 1:20am

Sadly, some people are just really gullible. Consider this: on one side, you have the entire professional medical research community the world over telling you COVID-19 is real, serious, and they have peer-reviewed data to back up their claims....and on the other side, a handful of zero-medical-credentials republican politicians/Alex Jones/conspiracy nuts.
Occam's razor, buddy. Which side is more likely to be correct?
Stop listening to the far-right.

Philip Stone
Mon, 11/02/2020 - 5:30am

Ya' can't fix stupid, I guess. It's a cult, this belief in Hit----excuse me, Trump Mania. Now, we know it wasn't something particular about Germany (and, we don't have to hyperinflation, caused by WW1 reparations to the rest of Europe, to blame.

G Scott
Mon, 11/02/2020 - 6:14am

Ahh, denial, whatever gets you thru the night...

Jr stanwick
Mon, 11/02/2020 - 6:42am

This year death toll is on track to be lower than the last few years per the CDC. If 200,000+ died from covid this year would have had a death toll of about 10 years ago without covid

Sat, 11/07/2020 - 9:42pm

Ok Trump, stick with the lies.

Grow Up, People!
Mon, 11/02/2020 - 8:55am

These (mostly) Trumpists are KILLING my business holding superspreader events, not wearing masks, lying about attending church services and Bible studies without taking precautions, flouting common sense safety protocols. They are engaged in manslaughter if not murder and completely destroying our economy.

Mon, 11/02/2020 - 8:59am

We're NUMBER ONE: 236,471 covid-19 deaths! FOUR MORE YEARS! NOT!

Mark salawage
Mon, 11/02/2020 - 12:36pm

The "data" is skewed to force the narrative of fear and blame

Truthful Data
Tue, 11/03/2020 - 1:09pm

I know, Trump says we need to fear Biden. We know the Don and we know Joe. We know we should fear Trump because things cannot go any worse under ANY other president. Trump is a traitor.

Anna Smutz
Mon, 11/02/2020 - 1:20pm

I really appreciate what Taylor had to say, I'm just sorry his extend family feel the way they do. God bless you all.

Agnosticrat 2.0
Mon, 11/02/2020 - 4:31pm

When doctors are deciding who gets care and who does not, people like Mr. Taylor and their family members that don’t socially distance and wear masks should lose any priority over those that do.

Wed, 11/04/2020 - 7:14am

The idea that covid is just another version of the flu because it will only kill you if you have a underlying condition when it is far more contagious and far more serious is just ignorance. The mask and social distancing idea is to control the spread not punish people. Why not be part of the solution not part of the problem. Saying covid didn't kill someone because they had some underlying condition is like saying a person was hit by a car because they were blind.

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 10:22am

This is for Anonymous who thinks that because the death rate is coming down everything is OK - it's just "cases" that are occurring without deaths. Well, the average cost of a hospital stay for a Covid diagnosis is upward of $70,000 so "cases" do cost our economy. My hospital is filled and they are discussing cancelling elective surgeries again which just causes more economic losses. And somehow it's OK to Anonymous to savage the lives of the hospital staff who have to come back to work sick with Covid themselves? Our lives don't count? It's more important for you to run around preaching the Scott Atlas herd immunity theory. We will have herd immunity when we get a vaccine and not a minute before.

Sat, 11/07/2020 - 10:31am

You have all been fooled. Fooled by the collective effort of the media, many people in government at every level. All these, controlled and directed by the rulers of this world. The people are their sheep to herd around, to control what they think, believe and do. They laugh at our stupidity and our stubbornness that we think we know what we are doing and refuse to believe we are being fooled. The virus is a fraud the testing is a fraud. The purpose to eliminate Trump. Trump is in the process of exposing their criminal activity. Primarily, human trafficking. They will stop at nothing to hide their transgressions. The choice to know is yours.

Sat, 11/07/2020 - 9:57pm

OMG the virus needs to visit you and all the Q nuts. Trump and all his lies and bs is over, he's been fired. Now guys like you can go back under your rock and stay there.

Sun, 11/08/2020 - 11:03pm

I wish I could post the picture of my sister to show you the garb she now has to wear while taking care of COVID patients and the University of Michigan hospital. You are the foolish one believing in bullshit conspiracy theories. Pretty sure there’s no conspiracy when she and her coworkers have to vent someone trying to save their lives from this horrible destructive disease.