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COVID-19 UPDATE: MDHHS extends epidemic order

MARQUETTE — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday revised and extended its epidemic order to contain the spread of COVID-19 since the state continues to see a surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Although most of the order is unchanged, the MDHHS announced that new provisions target indoor gatherings where COVID-19 has spread most rapidly.

Michigan currently has 172 cases per million people and positivity of tests has increased from about 2% to 5.5%, with both indicators increasing for over four weeks.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have doubled over the last three weeks, while the state death rate has increased for five consecutive weeks.

“The only way to beat COVID is to act on what we’ve learned since March,” MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said in a statement. “Wear masks. Keep 6 feet of distance. Wash hands. And avoid the indoor get-togethers where we have seen COVID explode.”

MDHHS on Thursday reduced the maximum gathering size from 500 persons to 50 persons for indoor gatherings such as weddings, parties and banquets which occur in nonresidential settings without fixed seating.

This change, it noted, responds to global evidence that COVID-19’s explosive growth is fueled by events where large-scale outbreaks have occurred, and that indoor settings are as much as 20 times likelier to drive outbreaks than outdoor settings.

Michigan currently has 34 outbreaks related to social events such as trips by families and friends as well as bridal showers and weddings, three to 10 cases; funerals, nine to 22 cases; and outings at social clubs and bowling parties, six to 19 cases.

An additional 19 outbreaks of up to 52 cases are linked to church services, which are exempt from enforcement under the order.

For bars, restaurants, and social events outside private homes, indoor party sizes at a single table are now restricted to six people.

NMU numbers linked to

surveillance testing

Northern Michigan University has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases in the past few days, with some positive results coming from recent surveillance tests.

NMU Chief Marketing Office Derek Hall said that of the new positives, 11 came from 400 surveillance tests conducted on Monday and reflects the general trends in the community.

“Each case is handled in partnership with the Marquette County Health Department,” Hall said in an email. “All have been alerted and contact tracing is ongoing. All the protocols are working well. We conduct random surveillance and athlete testing every week.

“We are less than four weeks to the end of the semester.”

The most recent cumulative numbers on Northern Michigan University’s Safe on Campus dashboard, found at https://nmu.edu/safe-on-campus/, show that between July 27 and Thursday afternoon, there have been 117 cumulative COVID-19 positive cases. These include 37 on-campus students, 67 off-campus students and 13 employees.

There are 38 active positive cases — five on-campus students, 27 off-campus students and six employees. Wednesday saw a spike of 16 cases.

Surveillance testing, Hall said, is basically ongoing and random testing.

“We did the whole group at the beginning,” Hall said. “Now we are looking for trends or issues in the population.”

NMU has restricted campus visitors until Nov. 6 to mitigate risks associated with rising COVID-19 cases in Marquette County, other areas in the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin.

Free Alger testing offered

There will be free drive-through testing for COVID-19 as well as free flu shots from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday at the Alger County Road Commission, E9264 M-28 in Munising. Identification is required, and people must be age 18 or older.

Community partners in the event are: the Luce-Mackinac-Alger-Schoolcraft District Health Department, the Michigan National Guard, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Alger County Emergency Management, Munising Memorial Hospital, Alger County Road Commission and Alger County Sheriff’s Office.

Bells for COVID victims

All churches are invited to toll their funeral bells for five minutes at 1 p.m. Sunday in memory of the more than 200,000 people who have died from COVID-19 in the United States, and the more than 1 million who have died worldwide.

This invitation to participate in the event comes from Bishop Katherine Finegan of the Northern Great Lakes Synod of the Lutheran Church, Bishop John Doerfler of the Catholic Diocese of Marquette, Bishop Rayford Ray of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan and Rev. Scott Harmon of the Marquette District of the United Methodist Church.

People are asked to observe a time of silence and say a prayer for people grieving during the pandemic.

Insurance Marketplace rates

open for preview

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office announced on Thursday that Michiganders can now preview the health insurance plans and rates that will be available during the upcoming Health Insurance Marketplace open enrollment period by visiting Healthcare.gov.

Open enrollment runs Sunday to Dec. 15, but effective immediately, consumers can browse plans and see estimated premium tax credits or other savings on health insurance without logging in, creating an account or filling out the official application.

Michigan has an estimated 46% increase in uninsured adults due to the impacts of COVID-19, and the state recently announced a $1 million effort to promote health insurance coverage options.

Depending on their income and situation, consumers may qualify for no- or low-cost coverage through cost sharing reductions, premium tax credits, coverage programs for children, the Healthy Michigan Plan or Medicaid.

For assistance, consumers should visit the Health Insurance Marketplace at www.healthcare.gov or call the Marketplace Call Center at 800-318-2596; the TYY number is 1-855-889-4325. Consumers can also contact DIFS from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 877-999-6442 or DIFS-HICAP@michigan.gov if they need assistance.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net

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