Dickinson declares COVID emergency

IRON MOUNTAIN — Dickinson County declared a state of emergency for the coronavirus Monday, citing an explosive rise in infections that has made the county a pandemic hotspot nearly seven months after its first COVID-19 case was confirmed.

According to the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department, there are 444 active cases in Dickinson County and 207 in Iron County, which includes 54 new cases Monday in Dickinson alone. Between the two counties, there have been 38 deaths, along with 376 recoveries.

“It’s serious,” said County Commissioner Joe Stevens, chairman of the health board. Observing social distancing and wearing face masks are among the most important things the public can do, he said.

“It’s not slowing down,” said Commissioner Kevin Pirlot. Some hospitals in Wisconsin have been filled to capacity, straining emergency services, he said.

“You may not have a hospital to go to,” he warned.

The board’s action is mainly intended to support further orders from the health department. Local emergency and health officials are in communication daily and nearly all decisions on the virus will be referred back to the health agency, said Pete Schlitt, the county’s emergency services coordinator.

The declaration can remain in effect until further notice, he added.

“Businesses have to step up, too,” he said, particularly in requiring the use of masks.

At the health agency’s recommendation, all Dickinson County public schools shut down in-person classes and athletics effective Oct. 17 and will conduct virtual learning at least through Friday.

Pirlot said he’s disappointed that rapid testing remains severely limited, nine months since the onset of the pandemic. “It’s a travesty that the U.S. is going through this right now,” he said.

Schlitt explained that a shortage of reagents — the chemicals used to process tests — has slowed turnaround times across the nation.

The county board first declared a coronavirus emergency March 16, following suit with the federal and state governments, but rescinded it May 21 with the understanding it could be reinstated as needed.

At that time, executive orders from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer were in effect — measures that have since been ruled unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court.

Commissioner Barbara Kramer concluded the board’s discussion by encouraging people to answer calls from the health department. Contact tracing for possible virus exposures can’t succeed without public cooperation, she said.

In other action, the board:

≤ Learned from Stevens that Dickinson County Healthcare System hopes to soon resolve a computer shutdown linked to a malware attack discovered Oct. 17. Core services continue under contingency procedures. Such cyberattacks “can happen to anyone anytime,” he said.

≤ Heard Controller Brian Bousley report the county has been awarded roughly $26,000 through the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The grant can be shared with local municipalities and agencies for coronavirus response, including possible expanded staffing for the health department.

≤ Voted 4-1 to hold future meetings of the board under a virtual format until further notice. Commissioner Henry Wender voted no, saying he prefers in-person meetings with an electronic option for those who want it.


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