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As COVID cases climb in northern Michigan, residents adapt to new protocols

Taylor Wizner


Northwest lower Michigan is seeing a rapid rise in the number of COVID cases. Until recently, the region has largely avoided COVID spikes.

But as temperatures drop, residents are having to shift practices and behavior. 

In late May when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lifted the stay-at-home order for northern Michigan, Traverse City local Tyler Harkert braced for a rush of downstaters. 

“We knew it was just going to be an influx of people downstate that didn’t want to wear masks, just wanted to get out of where they were,” he says.

Harkert waited all summer for the worst, but says he never saw the spike in COVID cases he predicted.

Since then, many Northern Michigan residents didn’t change their behavior all that much. Most schools are open again and many residents are eating inside restaurants.

But that’s just now starting to change.

October: COVID spikes across the region

Grand Traverse County saw its cases double over the course of October.

Joshua Meyerson, the Medical Director for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, says it’s a different situation than the summer.

“We certainly had cases and transmission but comparatively we had done well,” he says. “I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I think things are catching up to us here.”

Meyerson says that’s in part because students are back in classrooms . Residents are also going to their workplaces and meeting with friends — not always with a mask.

Christine Nefcy, the Chief Medical Officer for Munson Healthcare, says she’s seen a lax attitude to safety protocols and that’s now showing up in a jump in COVID-related hospitalizations.

The hospitals are facing staffing shortages, too.

“When you have that in addition to increased pressure on your beds because you have this whole other population of patients that have a high degree of intensive care, that just adds to the mix,” she says.

Combating “COVID fatigue”

Many in the community socialized outside in the summer and early fall. But with the weather quickly getting colder, Nefcy understands that’s less appealing.

“You can’t go out and walk on the beach. I mean you can, it’s just cold,” she says.

But, Nefcy says, that continues to be the safest bet.

Traverse City resident Sarah Sullivan admits to feeling the pressure of COVID fatigue.

“I feel like we’ve been living in winter for the last eight to nine months since this all started,” she says. “I don’t really see that changing. I just hope we can sustain it.”

She says she’ll work through that by seeing a few friends and going out to restaurants, like she’s done since she moved to the area recently.

For his part, Harkert says he’s more cautious now that there’s an outbreak, limiting the friends he hangs out with.

“I’ll look at the numbers and I’ll probably adjust accordingly,” he says. “I’ve got to go to work, I’ve got to make money, there’s no avoiding that. But I’ll still do the mandates, like I’ve been told to.”

Taylor Wizner covers heath, tourism and other news for Interlochen Public Radio.