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COVID-19 UPDATE: MDHHS launches mental wellness campaign

MARQUETTE — Mental health experts at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services are launching a statewide media campaign this week urging residents to seek relief from COVID-19-related emotional distress by talking to a trained crisis counselor and learning about other help available.

The MDHHS announced on Wednesday that the “Be Kind to Your Mind” campaign promotes the use of Michigan’s free, confidential Stay Well counseling line, and aims to combat stigma associated with seeking help for feelings of depression, anxiety, anger or loss, all of which are common during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Stay Well counseling line debuted on May 13, and is staffed with crisis counselors 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Callers can access the line by dialing Michigan’s COVID-19 hotline at 888-535-6136 and pressing “8” at the prompt.

The service is part of a federally funded grant program implemented by the MDHHS Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Administration in partnership with the Michigan State Police.

“Many of us are having a hard time right now,” MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said in a statement. “There should be zero shame and zero stigma — just honesty that can help each of us find our own inner strength.”

According to a recent online survey of 99,000 households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, more than one-third of American adults report symptoms of depressive and/or anxiety disorder — triple the rate reported in 2019.

Another survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in June found more than one in 10 U.S. adults had considered suicide in the past 30 days. That rate was more than double what was reported in 2019.

“Stay Well counselors help people understand their feelings and reactions during a disaster like the COVID-19 pandemic,” said psychiatrist Dr. Debra Pinals, MDHHS’ medical director for behavioral health, in a statement.

Pinals noted that while the counselors are not licensed mental health professionals, they have undergone training training provided by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration on how to help people mentally rebound from disasters.

She said the counselors are taught to listen, not judge, and help callers develop coping strategies, review their options and connect with agencies that may help them — all of which can reduce callers’ stress and improve their ability to endure the realities they face.

According to a report prepared by the Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Administration grant team, callers to the Stay Well line are anxious about contracting the coronavirus, having a loved one contract the virus. and keeping their children or parents safe.

They are discouraged about continued unemployment, worry about going back to work in an unsafe environment, and are lonely due to lack of social interaction.

To access other mental health resources for coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, visit Michigan.gov/StayWell.

Birchview building closes today

Due to a positive COVID-19 case upon the completion of contact tracing efforts, Birchview Elementary School will be closed starting today, Ishpeming Public Schools announced.

Birchview students will return to school on Nov. 12.

Families are reminded that all classwork during this time, which will involve distance learning, will be mandatory and will be graded. Anyone with questions or concerns may contact Superintendent Carrie Meyer at cmeyer@ishpemingschools.com.

NMU numbers updated

The most recent cumulative numbers on Northern Michigan University’s Safe on Campus dashboard, found at https://nmu.edu/safe-on-campus/, indicate that between July 27 and Wednesday, there have been 98 cumulative COVID-19 positive cases. These include include 34 on-campus students, 53 off-campus students and 11 employees.

There are 20 active positive cases — two on-campus students, 14 off-campus students and four employees.

The 98 cumulative cases represent a jump of seven cases from Tuesday.

Latest prison numbers released

The Michigan Department of Corrections has reported that as of Tuesday evening, the Marquette Branch Prison has 837 positive cases among inmates out of 1,042 tests given, up from 778 on Monday. A total of 350 cases are active, down from Monday’s 437 number.

A total of 143 Marquette Branch Prison staff have tested positive as of Tuesday, up from the 141 cases reported on Monday.

Testing requirements added

The MDHHS on Wednesday issued an epidemic order effective immediately that adds requirements for COVID-19 diagnostic testing in homes for the aged and larger adult foster care facilities, and modifying requirements for skilled nursing facilities.

As of this week, more than 100 new or ongoing outbreaks were reported in long-term care facilities.

The Wednesday order makes modest updates to testing requirements that have been in place for skilled nursing facilities since June 15, with new requirements that homes for the aged and large adult foster care facilities conduct the same testing.

The testing order requires that all SNFs, all HFAs and AFCs licensed to serve 13 or more individuals provide for the following:

≤ initial testing of all residents and staff;

≤ testing any resident or staff member with symptoms of COVID-19 or suspected exposure;

≤ weekly testing of all residents and staff in facilities with any positive cases among residents or staff, until 14 days after the last new positive;

≤ weekly testing of all staff in counties of risk levels A through E on the MI Safe Start Map;

≤ testing of all new or returning residents during intake unless tested in the 72 hours prior to intake; and

≤ testing of all newly hired staff on their start date or in the 72 hours prior to start date.

The order also requires testing of visitors to residential care facilities that have an MDHHS-required resident and staff testing regimen. This will include HFAs and AFCs serving 13 or more individuals, as well as SNFs, after the Wednesday testing order takes effect.

To help implement these testing requirements, the state will provide antigen testing supplies for all facilities affected by this order, and MDHHS has established a system for refilling antigen supplies provided directly by the federal government. Facilities may alternatively develop their own testing program and seek reimbursement; MDHHS will reimburse testing expenses not covered by insurance.

Hospice facilities licensed by the state as a nursing home must test all staff at the same intervals of nursing home staff, and may test a hospice patient with consent of the individual or other person legally authorized to make medical care decisions for the individual.

AFCs serving 13 individuals or more must begin testing as soon as practicable and no later than Nov. 24 for testing individuals with symptoms or exposure, weekly testing in facilities with positives, and testing of new residents or staff. AFCs must begin initial testing of all residents and staff, as well as weekly staff testing, by Dec. 2.

However, AFCs must test any resident leaving the facility to spend the Thanksgiving holiday in a residential home or for an overnight stay in the community before that resident’s departure and upon return to the facility.

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

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