Mackinac Island is experiencing a rise in cases of Covid-19, as nearly nearly 30 people living here have tested positive for the disease in 2.5 weeks. Monday, October 12, the LMAS District Health Department shared Island-specific data with The St. Ignace News for the first time since the pandemic began.
“From September 23 through October 11, there have been 29 new cases associated with Mackinac Island,” said health department public information officer Kerry Ott.
The uptick in cases is not considered to be an outbreak, according to the health department. But the increase illustrates that the novel coronavirus is being spread through the Island community.
The increase in cases is not linked to any one site or event, she said. About 500 people live on the Island year around, with hundreds more coming to live here seasonally. Those infected are a mix of year-around residents, seasonal residents, and seasonal workers. Everyone who tests positive while living on Mackinac Island are counted as Mackinac County cases, even if their permanent address or home country is elsewhere.
The increase in cases has affected the school, public library, restaurants, bars, fudge shops, and the ferry lines. Neither the LMAS Health Department nor the Mackinac Island Public Health Task Force would confirm to The St. Ignace News which businesses have been affected. Not all businesses that have infected employees are listed as possible places where the public could have been exposed to Covid-19, as only places where the public could have been in direct contact for 15 minutes or more are announced.
The health department also announced October 12 that only places or events with high risk will be shared publicly, to save health department staff time as they conduct case investigations and trace contacts of infected people. This will result in less information being released by the health department.
The impact of positive cases on the Island has been widespread, said Mayor Margaret Doud.
“It is very, very concerning, and we’re all working hard to keep it under control,” she told The St. Ignace News. “There definitely is an uptick in cases on the Island.”
The number of people infected with Covid-19 is growing throughout the Upper Peninsula, including in the health department’s service area of Mackinac, Luce, Alger, and Schoolcraft counties.
“On July 1, Luce, Mackinac, Alger, and Schoolcraft counties had 20 cases total,” said Mrs. Ott. “On October 10, 2020, the four counties had a total of 209 cases, with 43% considered recovered.” (A case is considered recovered if they are still alive 30 days after symptom onset or referral date).
Three new cases were reported on the state’s Covid-19 webpage Monday afternoon, bringing the total for the county up to 84 confirmed positive and 23 probable. Johns Hopkins University offers other online resources and case totals by county, but adds together the confirmed and probable cases.
Despite the rise in cases, LMAS District Health Department will not release Covid-19 data by zip code, which some Michigan health departments do report.
When asked why the health department does not release zip-code specific information, Mrs. Ott replied, “Because our communities are too small.”
Mrs. Ott also could not provide The St. Ignace News with positivity ratings for the county, which provide a good indication of how severe the uptick in Covid-19 cases is.
“I don’t have a number for how many have been tested,” Mrs. Ott said late Monday afternoon.
The St. Ignace News reached out to Mackinac Straits Health System for information about how many people have been tested and the positivity rating. When asked, spokesperson Mike Grisdale did not provide testing data to The St. Ignace News other than that 24 people were tested at an event Sunday, October 11. Those results will not be in for several days.
Mrs. Ott said the rise in cases is attributed to people failing to follow the basic public health recommendations of wearing a clean face mask, staying home when not feeling well, frequent hand sanitizing, and avoiding large gatherings.
“People should not be afraid, but they should be diligent in following protocols,” Mrs. Ott said. “Personally, if I walk into a business and see a lot of people not following the basic rules of wearing masks and maintaining distance, I leave.”
If people are planning to travel anywhere, they should follow those basic recommendations, of masks, washing hands, and staying home if sick, Mrs. Ott said.
“Residents and visitors need to realize the virus is here – any location is a possible exposure site,” Mrs. Ott said. “The most significant point is that our numbers have been relatively low until recently. The low numbers up to now have caused more people to decide the risk was low and stopped being diligent with wearing cloth face coverings, maintaining distance, staying home when they don’t feel well, avoiding large gatherings, and answering the phone if the health department calls them.”
Health Department staff is busy calling close contacts of people who have tested positive, including those on Mackinac Island.
“We also need individuals to answer the phone when the health department contacts them and to abide by their quarantine (those who are close contacts to a confirmed case) or their isolation (for confirmed cases) periods,” Mrs. Ott said. “As the weather changes and more people are gathering indoors, it is more important than ever that everyone follows all of these precautions.”
If people in the community are concerned that someone is violating quarantine restrictions, they can report the incident to the health department.
“We can take the information, but we will not be able to confirm to the caller whether that individual is a case or if they should be in quarantine,” Mrs. Ott said. “A reminder – anyone who has been contacted by the health department and told to quarantine or isolate, they need to answer the daily check-in calls and be truthful with us about symptoms and if they have broken their quarantine/isolation protocols.”
Testing on Mackinac Island is available at the medical center Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the medical center. Appointments can be made by calling the Island’s Covid-19 hotline at (906) 328-0010, which is available only Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Testing in St. Ignace is available at Mackinac Straits Hospital by appointment. To schedule, call the registration desk at (906) 643-1186.
Antibody testing is only available at the laboratory at the hospital in St. Ignace. It includes a blood draw, and samples must be sent to another lab for processing, and results typically take five to seven days. A doctor’s order is required to schedule a blood draw at Mackinac Straits Hospital.
As flu season approaches, the health department is also encouraging people to get flu shots. The health department expects to announce flu clinics in the coming weeks. Some flu shots are available locally, including at the Mackinac Island Medical Center.
“Flu plus COVID-19 could quickly push our local hospitals beyond their capacity, so beyond the Covid-19 protocols, we also need everyone to get their flu shot this year,” Mrs. Ott said.
ALSO: Mackinac Island Businesses Adjust to Covid-19 Cases, and Some Close Early. Read the story here.
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