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Virus variant found in western U.P.

MARQUETTE — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has notified the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department that the MDHHS Bureau of Laboratories has identified the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 in five Houghton County cases.

The variant is believed to have emerged in the United Kingdom and has since been detected in many states and countries. Compared with the original virus, the B.1.1.7 variant is about 50% more transmissible, leading to faster spread and potentially increasing the numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the WUPHD said.

“When a variant is identified or detected, additional measures take place, such as a strict 14-day quarantine,” said Katie Beer, WUPHD health officer, in a statement. “A new variant in our community is concerning since it can be related to higher transmission rates.

“Residents across the jurisdiction are reminded to continue practicing mitigation strategies including mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing and getting a vaccine as soon as it is available to you. These actions help slow the spread of the virus.”

The WUPHD indicated that with the variant’s high transmission rate, vaccinations are important. They can be scheduled with local providers by calling 2-1-1 or visiting coppercountrystrong.com/vaccine.

Whitmer receives first vaccine dose

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday received a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after becoming eligible in the latest phase of prioritization that includes all Michiganders age 16 years or older. 

The governor joined her daughter and seven metro Detroit teens who received their vaccinations from Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, and Dr. Betty Chu, chief quality officer at Henry Ford Health System.  

“I encourage parents to help their 16- and 17-year-old teens register for the vaccine and accompany them to their appointment, so that they can look forward to a safe, normal summer,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Everyone in Michigan is now eligible to get the vaccine, and I urge all Michiganders to get vaccinated to protect you and your loved ones from COVID-19. Let’s beat COVID-19 together.”  

The seven students who received their vaccine alongside the governor have volunteered to serve as Protect Michigan Commission COVID-19 ambassadors.

To date, Michigan has administered 4,706,383 vaccines, moving the state closer to its goal of equitably vaccinating at least 70% of Michiganders ages 16 and older as soon as possible. As part of these efforts, Michigan is working to administer 100,000 shots per day, partnering with organizations like Ford Field to create more opportunities for Michigan residents to receive a vaccine.  

All individuals 16 and 17 years of age are eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine only. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available for those 18 years and older. Any minors ages 16 and 17 will need a parent or legal guardian to accompany them to their appointment to provide consent to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. In some counties, the parent or legal guardian may be able to provide consent through a note or a phone call that has been verified by two nurses. People are urged to check with the vaccine provider first to see if this is an option where they live.

Vaccines available for vets

The Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain announced on Tuesday it is providing COVID-19 vaccines to anyone who served in the military, and their caregivers and spouses, under the authority granted by the SAVE LIVES Act, signed by President Joe Biden on March 24.

The expanded eligibility includes never-activated National Guard and Reserve, beneficiaries of the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and all categories of veterans regardless of character of discharge.

The expanded authority depends on the readily available COVID-19 vaccine supply and requires the DVA to continue to prioritize veterans enrolled in VA care.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we have been focused on vaccinating as many veterans as possible, and we are excited to multiply our efforts thanks to the SAVE LIVES Act,” said Jim Rice, director of the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center, in a news release. “We are regularly scheduling COVID-19 vaccination clinics here in Iron Mountain and at our seven community-based outpatient clinics in the U.P. and northern Wisconsin.”

VA outpatient clinics are located in Marquette, Hancock, Ironwood, Manistique, Menominee, Sault Ste. Marie and Rhinelander, Wisconsin.

Those newly eligible under the SAVES LIVES Act to receive a vaccine can go to www.va.gov/covid-19-vaccine to register and stay informed on the VA’s vaccine rollout process. The Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center will contact eligible individuals when additional vaccine is available.

For those who don’t have access to a computer, call 906-774-3300, extension 33115, to let the VA know that you are interested in the vaccine.

To maintain continued health and safety during the pandemic, people are urged to not visit a VA facility for a COVID-19 vaccine without an appointment.

Nessel appeals to social media for help

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel called on Twitter, eBay and Shopify to act immediately to prevent people from offering to sell fraudulent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination cards on their platforms. A bipartisan coalition of 45 attorneys general raised concerns about the public health risks of these fake cards in a letter to the companies’ CEOs. 

“These cards look legitimate, but are anything but,” Nessel said in a news release. “By selling these fake vaccine cards, bad actors are undermining the public safety and prolonging this pandemic.”

Legitimate vaccination cards are given by providers when the vaccine is administered. People who buy fake cards can have their own information added to the card or add it in themselves, so it appears they have been vaccinated when they have not, she said.

In their letter, the attorneys general ask the CEOs to monitor their platforms for ads or links selling blank or fraudulently completed vaccination cards, promptly remove ads or links that are selling cards, and preserve records and information about the ads and the people offering the fake vaccination cards.

Survey scams reported

Nessel is warning Michiganders who have received or want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to avoid current vaccine survey scams offering a reward in exchange for personal information.  

The Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in collaboration with a number of other federal agencies, recently issued alerts to the public due to an increasing number of victims receiving email and/or text messages after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, Nessel said in a news release.

In the messages, people are prompted to participate in a fraudulent post-vaccine survey with the promise of cash or a prize upon completion. The bogus surveys are reportedly asking victims to pay for shipping and handling in order to receive a prize that is never delivered.  

“Scammers continue to find ways to steal personal information and although many who have received the COVID vaccine have a sense of pride, it is crucial that people avoid sharing their vaccination cards for this exact reason,” Nessel said. “Bad actors are resourceful and with any piece of personally identifiable information, they will work hard to find out more about you. 

“If you do receive a suspicious email or text, remember to never click on any unsolicited links or attachments, and also remember that no legitimate surveys will ever ask for your credit card or bank account number to pay for a ‘free’ reward.” 

Michiganders also can report fraudulent text messages to 7726 (SPAM) for investigation and filter unwanted text messages through their wireless provider or with a call-blocking app.

Consumer complaints can be filed online at the attorney general’s website, or by calling 877-765-8388.

 

Public transit help

available

A growing number of public transit agencies covering more than half of Michigan’s 83 counties have joined a program announced March 29 to give marginalized populations free or low-fare rides to confirmed COVID-19 vaccination appointments and to help educate communities that the vaccine is safe and effective.

To date, public transit agencies from the western Upper Peninsula to southeast Michigan, and from west Michigan to mid-Michigan to the Thumb, have joined the Ride to Your Dose of Hope service from Michigan’s transit systems.

One of those agencies is the Marquette County Transit Authority, or Marq-Tran.

The program has two goals: First, help the state achieve vaccine equity by transporting people in marginalized populations to vaccines and vaccines to people with a focus on the homebound, disabled, unsheltered, unemployed, low-income, seniors and communities of color. Second, provide educational information to communities demonstrating that the COVID-19 vaccine is both safe and effective.

“We are thrilled that such a large and growing number of Michigan public transit agencies are participating in the Ride to Your Dose of Hope to help provide access to the COVID-19 vaccine to people facing transportation obstacles,” said Clark Harder, executive director of the Michigan Public Transit Association, in a news release. “Michigan transit agencies are proud to help the communities they serve ensure that transportation is not a barrier to any resident’s dose of hope and the end of the pandemic.”

Harder said Michigan residents needing a free or low-fare ride to a COVID-19 vaccination should contact their local transit agency or local health department to determine if transportation is available in their area.

SafeHaven launched

To address stress, burnout and COVID-19 effects, the Michigan State Medical Society has launched SafeHaven, a program that offers clinicians with resources and support.

“Physician burnout has been a growing problem for years now and that’s only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kevin McFatridge, chief operating officer of MSMS, in a news release. “The fact is we need to do a better job of caring for our physicians, nurses, physician assistants and all health care providers so that they in turn can continue to provide excellent quality care for Michigan’s patients — that’s what SafeHaven is all about.

“Our hope is this new resource will go a long way towards relieving our overly burdened provider community and ultimately help them rediscover the meaning, joy and purpose in practicing medicine.”

SafeHaven, which is implemented in partnership with VITAL WorkLife, provides a host of discreet and confidential sets of tools and resources they can access to stay well, avoid burnout and connect to their purpose without the fear of undue repercussions to their medical license.

SafeHaven resources are available to providers and their families and include the following:

≤ In-the-moment telephonic support, available 24/7.

≤ Counseling sessions.

≤ Peer coaching.

≤ Legal and financial consultations and resources, available 24/7.

≤ WorkLife Concierge, a virtual assistant to help with tasks, available 24/7.

≤ VITAL WorkLife App providing mobile access to SafeHaven resources.

For more information, visit MSMS.org/SafeHaven.

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

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