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Covid cases fall as first case of UK variant detected Up North

Taylor Wizner


Public health officials say the positivity rate, hospitalizations and new Covid cases are all trending downward.

Current cases are close to where they were before Covid spiked in northern Michigan last fall, says Munson’s Chief Medical Officer Christine Nefcy.

“For the last two days we’ve been below 5% [positivity] and we have not been there since October,” she says. “It’s really great news.”

There are more than 24,000 cases in the region and more than 622,000 cases in the state, as of Wednesday.

Munson has about half as many Covid patients as a month ago.

“I think the mitigation efforts that our local and state health departments put into place have been 100% effective,” Nefcy says.

She says the fact that virtually no cases of influenza have been counted in the region suggest the same mitigation efforts are limiting the spread of that disease as well.

Variant detected

Health officials from the Health Department of Northwest Michigan confirmed the presence of a COVID-19 variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, in the local community Monday.

It was found in a Charlevoix County man who traveled outside the state. He has recovered and the health department has completed its case investigation and contact tracing, according to officials.

Health Officer Lisa Peacock says it’s likely more cases of the variant will appear.

“There are probably many other cases we don’t know about,” she says. “It just reminds us to continue to be diligent about testing. If people have symptoms or exposure or travel history they certainly need to be tested so we can readily identify who has Covid-19.”

Hospitals get less vaccine because health departments prioritized

Christine Nefcy says Munson has vaccinated 64.3% of its workers and contractors. She adds more people have gotten the vaccine recently who at first deferred and they’ve hired new employees.

“We have gotten the vast majority of healthcare workers that want the vaccine vaccinated,” Nefcy says.

Because of that, more doses will now go to northern Michigan health departments and pharmacies instead of hospitals.

Nefcy says the hospital system is still not scheduling any first dose vaccine clinics. Those who got their first dose from Munson will still be able to get their second dose.

But that could change, and it’s all dependent on how many doses the state sends. Nefcy says they currently have teams focused on planning vaccine clinics.

“With how much vaccine we’re getting, we really feel the health departments’ doing their vaccine clinics and our clinics delivering vaccines to our patients is the right approach,” she says. “But we are adaptable and flexible and we will adjust as we receive the vaccine.”

More seniors get the vaccine

Meanwhile, local health departments are focusing on getting seniors vaccinated, especially the most vulnerable.

Grand Traverse County Health Department’s Wendy Hirschenberger says at least 98% of recent appointments have gone to county residents who are 65 and older.

“Last Friday we had a lot of 80 and 90 year olds through our clinic,” she says. “It’s great to see people who have been home-bound there and happy to get their vaccinations.”

But Hirschenberger says demand for the shots still far-exceeds supply. She says currently more than 20,000 county residents qualify for the vaccine, while they get less than a thousand first doses a week.

Lisa Peacock says in her districts 12-13% of residents have been vaccinated. That’s keeping pace with the state average near 10%.

The state is currently vaccinating almost 31,000 people a day.


Vaccine resources


Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department: They are currently scheduling people who registered for their waiting list before 1/7/21. They will contact you by phone or email starting with those who registered first as vaccine becomes available. If you are currently eligible you can sign up here COVID-19 Vaccine Sign Up Form. Seniors without internet access can call 231-715-5557.


District Health Department #10: Sign up for pre-registration forms on their website and you will be contacted. Seniors 65+ should sign up for the waiting list. DHD#10 will contact you at the email you provided or call you if you do not have an email when an appointment is available to schedule you. Please do not contact the health department to see where you fall on the waiting list. If you don’t have access to technology or someone who can assist you can call 231-715-5557. Other lists: Phase 1A healthcare worker sign up list, Phase 1B frontline workers sign up list, Phase 1C Essential Workers vaccination interest form


Grand Traverse County Health Department:  Go to the county websiteon Mondays at 1 p.m. to sign up for a vaccine. It is the best way to secure a vaccine appointment. Anyone who submitted their information to a vaccine interest survey is not on a waiting list. Seniors can call the senior hotline at 231-715-5557 if they cannot use a computer or have other barriers to getting a vaccine. Check the Grand Traverse County Health Department Facebook for updates.


Health Department of Northwest Michigan:  Pre-registration form: Anyone with access to a computer and internet should complete the COVID-19 online pre-registration form. After clicking submit, you will receive a confirmation email notifying you that your pre-registration form has been received. The county will contact you by email to make an appointment. Seniors who are unable to access the form or have any other barriers to receiving the vaccination should call the senior hotline at 231-715-5557. This hotline is experiencing extremely high call volume, so when prompted, you may request a call back instead of staying on the line. Seniors may also call their local Council on Aging or senior citizen center for assistance in signing up. Staff there will assist seniors in registering. 


Munson Healthcare: The hospital system has paused vaccine clinics. Allocations are determined at the state level. They are unable to predict when more vaccine may be available or how much they’ll receive. Updates can be found at their website.


Meijer: Some appointments are available for qualifying residents. You can find more information by visiting their website.

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