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Alpena-area public health official: Have to ‘suck it up’ to slow COVID-19

Pied Piper closes after probable case reported

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Seth Jones, left, and Nick Forcier restock a goodie display at the Shell gas station in Alpena on Tuesday. District Health Department No. 4 reminds people to wear masks in public to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Health officials say community spread of the virus is increasing and making contact tracing difficult.

ALPENA — If you leave your house, you are putting yourself at risk of contracting COVID-19 and possibly exposing others to it, District Health Department No. 4 officials stressed at a board meeting today.

Fast-rising infections in Northeast Michigan, coupled with a lack of contact tracers, have made slowing the spread of the coronavirus a challenge, officials said. The solution is for more people to take the threat seriously, act responsibly, and do their part to stay home if they become infected or show symptoms.

Medical Director Joshua Meyerson said the rapid spread seen in the area will continue until people limit their exposure to the virus, which means people should remain home often and limit places where exposure is possible.

“We are all tired of this, but I’m not going to sugarcoat things,” Meyerson said. “We are going to have to suck it up for a few weeks. If you leave your house, you are putting yourself at risk.”

The Health Department board met as public health officials today reported 17 newly infected Northeast Michiganders, including nine Alpena County residents, one Presque Isle County resident, one Montmorency County resident, and six Alcona County residents. More than 100 newly infected Northeast Michiganders were reported over the weekend.

That means that, as of today, 430 Northeast Michiganders were actively infected, meaning they’d been confirmed infected with COVID-19 but have not recovered or died.

On Halloween, that number was 100. Just two weeks before that, it was 17.

As of Monday, eight COVID-19 patients, one of whom was in intensive care, were hospitalized at MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena, according to state data. The Alpena hospital was 37% full.

As of today, 121 people — six more than were reported on Monday — were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection across the state-designated, 18-county health care region that includes Alpena, Presque Isle, and Montmorency counties, according to state data.

Meanwhile, Pied Piper School and its Early Childhood Special Education classroom at Lincoln Elementary School closed today because of a probable coronavirus infection connected to the school.

The interactive graphic below shows active infections in Northeast Michigan over time. Story continues below graphic.

Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona Educational Service District officials were informed Monday night that a student or employee may have COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Pied Piper School will reopen on Nov. 30 and students will transition to remote learning starting Wednesday. Parents should expect contact from their child’s teacher no later than Thursday.

The closures will allow staff time to properly clean the school and early childhood classroom at Lincoln Elementary, AMA ESD Superintendent Scott Reynolds said today in a letter to the community. He said in the letter that no one in the early childhood classroom was exposed to the probably infected individual and that in-person learning will resume there Wednesday.

“We have been advised that anyone who came into close contact with this individual within 48 hours of symptom onset may be required to quarantine,” Reynolds said in the letter. “Based on this information, and in coordination with District Health Department #4, there are students and staff members identified that came into contact with the individual on Nov. 12 and/or Nov. 13 at Pied Piper School.”

Although the Health Department is in the process of hiring more contact tracing personnel, the public needs to step up and help, Meyerson said at the Health Department board meeting.

The interactive chart below shows cumulative infections, recoveries and deaths in Northeast Michigan over time. Story continues below graphic.

He said anyone who tests positive or is showing symptoms should take it upon themselves to retrace their steps and warn others with whom they may have been in contact.

“We aren’t able to keep up with contact tracing, but people know where they have been and who they have been with,” he said. “Call them. Let them know what is going on. You don’t need to get a call from the Health Department to do the right thing.”

Administrative Health Officer Denise Bryan said keeping up with the increase in cases is a struggle. She said there has been a lot of community spread from extracurricular events and school sports.

She added that, although her staff is stressed and tired, they are working the long hours necessary to protect the public.

“We are employing all of the public health tools at our disposal to fight against this,” Bryan said. “I am so proud of our staff for the hard work and commitment they have shown in these difficult times.”

Flip through the interactive timeline below to see how the coronavirus spread through Northeast Michigan. Story continues below the timeline.

Since the pandemic hit Michigan in mid-March, 647 Northeast Michiganders have been infected, according to local public health agencies. Of those, 197 have recovered and 20 have died.

The last death was reported on Friday.

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