NMU switches to new testing lab

MARQUETTE — Following a delay in receiving results of COVID-19 surveillance testing, Northern Michigan University is switching to a new lab.

NMU officials indicated that the previous lab was overloaded with tests and was not able to meet the agreed-upon results timeline.

In a Wednesday letter to students, faculty and staff, NMU interim President Kerri Schuiling acknowledged the results have helped quantify Northern’s COVID-19 levels — information campus leaders have used to regularly evaluate and update its pandemic protocols.

“However, we are taking action to address the ongoing delay in return of results,” Schuiling wrote. “Northern is switching to a new lab: TrueCare. TrueCare, which was subcontracted by our previous lab to do the sample collections at NMU, will expand to cover all aspects of the surveillance testing: collection, analysis and reporting.”

TrueCare, Schuiling said, has agreed to return results within 48 hours from the receipt of the shipment of tests — the time frame originally promised by the lab in California but never realized.

Schuiling noted there will be minor logistical changes regarding the lab switch. The testing will continue to be at the Northern Center, take only 10 to 15 minutes and is free, but is required of those selected in the weekly random draw. However, testing hours are changing to 4 to 8 p.m. Monday and 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Anyone selected to test still will receive an email from SafeOnCampus@nmu.edu that will provide the link to schedule a preferred testing time. The link will bring individuals to a preregistration form where they will need to provide demographic information and create an account. Once an account is created, individuals will be asked to indicate whether they prefer results emailed or sent directly via text.

“While we think the change in labs for sample analysis will speed up the receipt of results, it will still be 48 to 72 hours from the point of the test until results are available,” Schuiling said.

Anyone becoming symptomatic before results are returned is asked to contact a personal health care provider or the NMU Vielmetti Health Center at 906-227-2355 for guidance, which may include another test for rapid on-site results.

Schuiling did provide some good news.

She reported that COVID-19 case numbers continue to decline in the area, which is “reflective across much of the country.”

“This is good news as we look ahead to our fast-approaching spring break (Feb. 28-March 6),” Schuiling said. “I encourage NMU students, faculty and staff to do some spring break planning regarding COVID.

“Consider testing options before heading home to loved ones, or before traveling with family and friends, any of whom may be vulnerable to COVID. Also, think about a safety plan for what to do if someone gets COVID while you’re traveling and needs to isolate.”

MDHHS updates mask guidance

Even though COVID-19 cases have reached the 50,000 mark in the Upper Peninsula, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to decline in the state.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced on Wednesday that in the midst of this decline, it is updating its mask guidance for public settings, including school settings, to reflect that Michigan is entering a post-surge, recovery phase.

MDHHS said that moving forward, the COVID-19 cycle can be broken down into three key phases:

≤ Response — local and state public health agencies implement rapid response to a surge. The public may be advised to increase masking, testing and social distancing.

≤ Recovery — post-surge, with no immediate resurgence predicted. Local and state public health agencies will monitor conditions that could lead to future surges.

≤ Readiness — an expected surge in cases, with implications on severity of illness and hospital capacity and increased communication to the public regarding possible new risks.

Currently, decreases in cases and hospitalizations as well as increased access to vaccines, testing and treatment indicate that Michigan is entering a post-surge, recovery phase of the cycle, MDHHS said.

During this phase, MDHHS recommends that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, continue to practice universal masking in high-risk congregate settings, including long-term care facilities, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, jails and health care facilities. All individuals, regardless of vaccination status, also should wear a mask during isolation and quarantine periods to stop further community spread of COVID-19.

MDDHS suggested that school districts and organizations consider local conditions and work with their local health department to determine mask policies for school districts, public meetings and large events.

“This is good news for Michigan,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. “While Michigan hasn’t had statewide mask policies since last June, this updated guidance will underscore that we are getting back to normal. Let’s keep working together to build on our momentum so we can keep our kids learning in person.”

Individuals and families should assess their own risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission and make choices about when it makes sense to wear masks, MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel said in a statement.

“We want to make sure individuals and local communities have the information and tools they need to make choices for their families based on their personal situation and local community conditions,” she said. “We continue to strongly urge all residents ages 5 and older to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine and to get boosted when eligible as the vaccine continues to be our best defense against the virus.”

Michiganders should consider their individual and family members’ risk factors and vaccination status when making the personal decision whether to mask, MDHHS said. Those with chronic illnesses or who are immunocompromised are at higher risk for poor outcomes from COVID-19 and would benefit most from masking in indoor settings. Risk factors would include age, medical conditions and vaccination status.

MDHHS said it will continue to monitor the transmission of COVID-19 closely to assess risk across the state and adjust as conditions change. These changes could include the presence of a new variant that increases public risk, or an increased number of cases that strains the health care system.

MDHHS also continues to recommend the use of what it called “layered mitigation strategies” for Michiganders: getting vaccinated, isolation and quarantine, getting tested after exposure or in the presence of symptoms and wearing a KN95 mask.

Governor signs bipartisan bill

Whitmer announced on Wednesday that she signed HB 5523, a $1.2 billion supplemental funding bill that uses federal resources to keep kids learning in person and bolster the state’s health care workforce, among other important investments.

“This bill is a testament to what’s possible when Republicans and Democrats work together to put Michiganders first,” Whitmer said in a statement. “The funding will ensure that our kids can continue safely learning in person by expanding testing and screening in schools and make health care more accessible to regular Michiganders by allocating funds to recruit and retain critical health care workers.

“I look forward to continuing in this spirit of collaboration on the fiscal year 2023 budget, which will create good-paying jobs and put money in Michiganders’ pockets.”

HB 5523 invests $1.2 billion of federal COVID-19 resources into Michigan’s families and communities, the governor’s office said. The bill includes $300 million for health care recruitment, retention and training; $150.8 million for testing and screenings in schools; and $367.3 million to boost lab capacity grants, speeding up the processing of tests.

“Our communities benefit from a strong and talented health care workforce, and these past two years have placed incredible burdens and demands on our team members,” said Tina Freese Decker, chair of Michigan Health & Hospital Association as well as president and CEO of BHSH System, which includes Beaumont Health and Spectrum Health, in a statement.

The funding included in this supplemental budget bill will help Michigan hospitals and health systems rebuild and retain “exceptional” health care workers to provide safe, high-quality care, including supporting innovative educational and training programs, she said.

“Nurses and other health care workers are exhausted after working nonstop in difficult circumstances throughout the pandemic and have made countless sacrifices, including putting our own lives at risk,” said Jamie Brown, a critical care nurse and president of the Michigan Nurses Association, in a statement. “Anything that can be done to support health care workers should be done immediately in order to retain and recruit the health care workers needed to provide patient care as we move forward. It’s urgent that hospitals get these resources to frontline workers as soon as possible.”

Program to help businesses

Whitmer on Wednesday announced a grant program beginning March 1 that is expected to provide business with additional financial support totaling $409 million to help retain or create jobs and boost Michigan’s economy.

“This program will support Michigan businesses that were impacted by COVID-19 and help us build on our economic momentum,” Whitmer said in a statement. “I’m focused on putting Michiganders first and growing Michigan’s economy as we work together to take advantage of our $7 billion surplus and make investments in the issues that matter most to families.

“Right now, Michigan’s resilient, innovative small businesses need support, and we should keep having their backs as they work to expand operations and create more jobs.”

Under this program, eligible businesses in operation before Oct. 1, 2019, may receive a percentage of their loss in total state sales through a grant, up to $5 million, the governor’s office said. Eligible businesses that began operating between Oct. 1, 2019, and June 1, 2020, may receive a grant equal to 25% of certain specified costs.

The grants may be prorated depending upon the number of businesses that apply to ensure that all eligible businesses can receive funding.

“Treasury is committed to ensuring these payments are received by eligible businesses,” state Treasurer Rachael Eubanks said in a statement. “We are working with our business and community partners to ensure potential applicants are aware of this funding opportunity. I encourage businesses to check if they’re eligible for a grant.”

Businesses must submit a completed online application to the Michigan Department of Treasury no later than 11:59 p.m. March 31. Grant awardees will be notified in the spring and grant awards will be distributed by July 1.

The application will become available at 8 a.m. March 1 at www.michigan.gov/abr. Businesses interested in applying are encouraged to attend an informational webinar hosted by the state Treasury Department. Upcoming webinars will be from 10 to 11 a.m. Tuesday and 1 to 2 p.m. March 7.

Details for signing up for a webinar can be found on the grant program’s website at www.michigan.gov/abr.


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