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Chasing COVID-19 Up North

Interlochen Public Radio


There continues to be few new COVID-19 cases reported in northwest lower Michigan. No positive diagnoses were added to the region Tuesday. This weekend, the state only revealed a new diagnosis in Wexford County and two in Otsego County. 

Still, on Friday four Grand Traverse County residents were confirmed to have the disease, after more than two weeks without any new cases. 

And northern Michigan residents were alerted to new exposuresites in Petoskey, Gaylord and Traverse City. At least three asymptomatic people visited stores, restaurants and a casino, possibly infecting others through community transmission.

Health Departments across the region stay busy to keep ahead of the disease where they find it

The Health Department of Northwest Michigan says one of the reasons we are hearing about these exposure areas is because more testing has been made available in the last month. That’s led to some people, who don’t show symptoms, to test positive for COVID-19. If people don’t feel sick, they may be more inclined to visit more places in the community, and with regions 6 and 8 opening, there is more opportunity to frequent businesses.

Regional health departments say being in a store or restaurant with an infected person for a short amount of time is low risk for most people. But, the risk increases depending on the amount of time spent near an COVID-19 positive person, whether they cough or talk loudly and are wearing a mask.

Health officials also say people are still testing positive for COVID-19 without being directly exposed to a known positive case, which indicates the disease is still spreading, in a few cases, within the community.

Lisa Peacock, the Health Officer for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan and the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department, says more cases are being identified because some employers are also requesting staff get tested after a case is discovered at work. She says that’s led to the discovery of many more positive cases and it’s now the majority of the cases the health department handles. 

Quick tracing for new cases 

On Friday, four men tested positive for COVID-19 in Grand Traverse County, two had symptoms, while two did not. One resident had been in close contact with a person who had tested positive for the disease.

Within 24 hours, the Grand Traverse County Health Department investigated the newly diagnosed residents and found 38 close contacts who may have been exposed. Five department employees then spent the weekend contacting those people. Health officials monitor those contacts’ health during 14-days of self-quarantine.

Reaching out to many potential contacts of infected residents may be a tough task this summer if more cases develop from visitors bringing the virus, or northern Michigan residents contracting the virus while traveling. But so far, regional health departments have been able to keep up. 

All four departments have adjusted workers’ schedules to handle with new cases over the weekend. They haven’t had to rely on the state network of volunteers to conduct the contact tracing.