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Caution urged for Thanksgiving

MARQUETTE — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday issued Thanksgiving celebration guidance for vulnerable populations to help ensure their health and safety and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“While we are advising everyone to avoid Thanksgiving gatherings beyond their own households, it’s especially critical that residents of nursing homes and other group homes remain in their homes during the holiday,” MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said. “If these individuals contract COVID while traveling, they run the risk of bringing it back to others who are especially vulnerable to illness and death. This year, please celebrate Thanksgiving by Zoom or by phone, and next year’s Thanksgiving will be better.”

On Nov. 18, MDHHS issued an epidemic order that limits indoor gatherings to no more than two households. This order does not prohibit residents of the previously mentioned facilities from leaving a care facility. However, it is recommended that:

≤ Residents be strongly encouraged to stay in place, especially in light of increasing prevalence of COVID-19 cases;

≤ Providers and direct care staff educate residents and their family and friends on the associated risk of leaving a care facility and attending gatherings with family and friends as well as the steps they should take to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19;

≤ Providers encourage residents to stay connected with loved ones through alternative means of communication, such as phone and video calls;

≤ Care facilities should follow recommended protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 if a resident chooses to leave the care facility even after being provided such counseling:

≤ Limit close contact by maintaining physical distancing of six feet or more, adhere to the gathering restrictions in the Nov. 18 order and use technology to engage with others remotely;

≤ Wear a face mask or cloth face covering at all times, including in cars and homes, unless actively eating or drinking, or medical exemptions apply;

≤ Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items.

≤ Keep safe around food and drinks. Avoid communal serving utensils, passing of food and potluck- or buffet-style food service, and instead opt for individually prepared plates by a single server;

≤ Wash hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer often;

≤ Avoid large gatherings, crowded areas and high-risk activities, such as singing;

≤ For those attending a gathering, avoid contact with individuals outside of their household for 14 days prior to the gathering if possible and follow MDHHS’s guidance for safe social gatherings;

≤ Ask anyone who has signs or symptoms of COVID-19, or has been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19, to not attend the gathering;

≤ If possible, conduct gatherings outdoors. Indoor gatherings should have good ventilation, consider opening windows and doors if possible;

≤ Verbally greet others instead of shaking hands or giving hugs.

≤ All residents who leave the care facility should be screened upon return and if symptomatic, a resident’s health care provider or the local health department should be contacted to determine if quarantine is warranted; and

≤ Strictly adhere to all testing, visitation and re-entry after visitation requirements for care facilities subject to the Oct. 21 and Oct. 29 epidemic orders.

UPHS updates community

UP Health System officials on Tuesday issued an update on COVID-19 to the community.

“UP Health System’s top priority continues to be protecting the health and safety of our patients, providers, employees and the communities we serve,” said Gar Atchison, CEO of UPHS-Marquette and UPHS market president; Mitch Leckelt, CEO of UPHS-Bell; and Ed Freysinger, CEO of UPHS-Portage. “Like our fellow health care providers, we continue to be challenged by the concerning trend of COVID-19 in our local community and across the nation.

“The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise rapidly across the country, and the same is true here at home in the Upper Peninsula. In fact, COVID-19-related hospitalizations have reached an all-time high across the U.S. since this public health crisis began.”

They stressed that the crisis is not isolated to urban areas and larger cities since COVID-19 is a “very real problem in the smaller communities we serve” as well.

Small towns and rural areas across the country and across Michigan have seen a rapid acceleration of COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks, the officials said, and UPHS has felt the impact.

“Unfortunately, the continued surge and prevalence of COVID-19 has the potential to overwhelm the local health care delivery system, which is why we all must do our part to protect ourselves, our health care workers and our communities,” they said.

With up to 40% of those infected showing few to no symptoms, they indicated the virus can spread quickly.

“Combined with cooler temperatures and our annual flu season, we are facing what could be a particularly challenging fall and winter,” they said. “We strongly urge our community members to be even more diligent in their efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the months ahead.”

UPHS is prepared to handle an influx of patients and expand the capacity of its facilities if needed, they said.

“We continue to closely monitor the prevalence of the virus in our communities and build upon our hospital’s emergency operations plan, which maps out — among other things — our escalation plan in the event of a surge of patients,” they said. “We cannot speculate on what could happen over the coming weeks and months, but we can assure everyone that we are working hard to plan for all of these scenarios and adapt our hospital operations to safely care for and support our community during this evolving pandemic.”

Atchison, Leckelt and Freysinger called upon Upper Peninsula residents to wear masks over their noses and mouths, wash their hands frequently, practice social distancing and avoid group gatherings.

UPHS Bell reimplements protocols

UPHS-Bell is reimplementing certain visitor restrictions. It announced on Tuesday that its limited visitation hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. will be suspended starting today.

“Like many communities across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll on our community and demand even more of our energy and efforts,” Leckelt said in a statement. “We believe this effort is necessary to do our part in keeping our patients and employees as safe as possible.”

Effective today, visitors will be permitted to enter the facility only if they are:

≤ Necessary for the provision of medical care, the support of activities of daily living, or to exercise the power of attorney or court-appointed guardianship for an individual under the facility’s care;

≤ Accompanying an admitted inpatient specifically at the time of admission and at the time of discharge to assist with the process and/or post-procedure. Routine visiting will not be permitted;

≤ A support person with the patient in the Family Birthing Center at any time, including one certified doula or midwife during labor;

≤ A parent, foster parent or guardian of an individual under 21 years of age who is under the facility’s care;

≤ Visiting an individual under the facility’s care who is in critical condition or hospice care;

≤ Visiting under urgent circumstances or for the purpose of performing official government functions; and

≤ Able to wear an appropriate mask or face covering. If you are unable to wear an appropriate mask or face covering, you may be denied entry into the facility.

Visitors are not allowed for patients in isolation, including those who are under observation for suspected or test positive for COVID-19.

UPHS-Bell staff will continue to perform health screens for individuals entering the facility. It will deny entry to individuals who have symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, muscle or body aches, headache, a new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting. Anyone who has had contact in the last 14 days with someone with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 also will be denied entry.

The main entrance of the hospital is open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, while the Emergency Department is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

LMAS urges caution

The Luce-Mackinac-Alger-Schoolcraft Health Department urges people to “take every precaution to protect each other” from the coronavirus.

“It is as real as the influenza that tore through the world for two terrible years more than a hundred years ago,” LMAS said in a statement. “It is a virus we are learning more about every day, and the hope of vaccines being available in the coming months should give all of us the strength and courage to continue to do small things that often seem very hard, to protect each other.

“But if you really think about it, the things we are all being asked to do are really small. Some say ‘masks don’t work’ and use the rising numbers as evidence of that, but the problem is these small things work best when we all do them.”

The health department stresses that people should wear cloth face coverings over their mouths and noses anytime they are in public or with people not from their immediate households, maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet and wash their hands thoroughly and often. They also should stay home when they don’t feel well.

LMAS indicated that on Nov. 12, there were 614 cases of COVID-19 in its four-county area, and as of Tuesday, that number stood at 797 — an increase of about 30% in 12 days.

A virtual holiday

Older adults experiencing social isolation this Thanksgiving due to the COVID-19 pandemic have a new opportunity to celebrate the holiday virtually, the MDHHS reported.

Through its partnership with the national education technology company GetSetUp, the MDHHS’s Aging & Adult Services Agency is offering a series of Thanksgiving-themed social hours this week. The special classes will help older adults connect with family and friends this holiday season. This includes a special Thanksgiving social hour at 3 p.m. Thursday. A social hour centered on a Thanksgiving leftovers recipe swap will be at noon Friday.

Registration is required. Classes and social hours are offered online and via telephone. To register, visit the www.getsetup.io/michigan or call 1-888-559-1614.

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