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Northern Michigan Implements New COVID-19 Measures As Cases Rise


Northern Michigan has seen a rapid rise in COVID cases. The area had largely avoided the kind of spikes we've seen elsewhere, even elsewhere in Michigan, but as temperatures drop, people there have to shift practices and behavior. From Interlochen Public Radio, Taylor Wizner reports.

TAYLOR WIZNER, BYLINE: In late May, when Governor Gretchen Whitmer lifted Michigan's stay home order for northern Michigan, residents like Tyler Harkett braced for a rush of people from downstate.

TYLER HARKETT: We knew it was just going to be an influx of people from downstate that didn't want to wear masks, just wanted to get out of where they were.

WIZNER: Harkett waited for the worst, but the predicted spike never really came. And since then, many northern Michigan residents didn't change their behavior all that much. Most schools are open again, and many residents are eating inside restaurants. But that's just now starting to change. Grand Traverse County is the area's most populous and saw its cases double in the past three or four weeks. Josh Meyerson is the medical director for several counties in the northwest part of Michigan and says it's a different situation now.

JOSH MEYERSON: We certainly had cases and transmission, but comparatively we had done well. I don't think that's the case anymore. I think things are catching up to us here.

WIZNER: That's in part because students are back in classrooms again, and residents are going to their workplaces and visiting with friends and not always masking up. Christine Nefcy is the chief medical officer for Munson Healthcare, the region's largest medical provider. She's seen a lax attitude to safety protocols and says that's now showing up in a jump in COVID-related hospitalizations. And the hospitals are now facing staffing shortages.

CHRISTINE NEFCY: When you have that, in addition to increased pressure on your beds because you have this whole other population of patients that have a high degree of intensive care, that just adds to the mix.

WIZNER: Doing things outdoors worked well in the summer and early fall. But with weather quickly getting colder, Nefcy understands getting together with friends outside is less appealing.

NEFCY: You can't go out and walk on the beach. I mean, you can. It's just cold.

WIZNER: Traverse City resident Sarah Sullivan says it's a balancing act she hasn't quite mastered yet, and she admits feeling the pressure of COVID fatigue.

SARAH SULLIVAN: I feel like we've been living in winter for the last, you know, eight or nine months since this all started. I don't really see that changing. I just hope we can all sustain it.

WIZNER: For his part, Tyler Harkett says he's more cautious now that there's an outbreak, only spending time with a few close friends.

HARKETT: I mean, I'll look at the numbers, and I'll probably adjust accordingly. That's kind of how I feel about it. And I got to go to work. I got to make money, so there's no avoiding that. But I'll still do the mandates like I've been told to.

WIZNER: And health officials here say following those mandates is key to lowering the number of COVID cases springing up here in northern Michigan. For NPR News, I'm Taylor Wizner in Traverse City.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEVIN MORBY'S "VELVET HIGHWAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Taylor Wizner