Ontonagon Co. is the last place in MI with no virus cases


ONTONAGON, Mich. (WJMN) – In the entire state of Michigan, there remains one county without a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Alger County recorded its first case on June 8 and Keweenaw County on June 9.

WJMN talked with Kate Beer from the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department about Ontonagon County and how its been able to keep a spotless record so far.

“It’s an interesting conundrum we’re in that we haven’t really seen the emergence of the disease, particularly in Ontonagon County, however like we saw last week an uptick in cases due to people traveling and opening up,” said Beer.

Overall, Beer says the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department has only tested 3% of its five-county coverage area, which she added, holds true in Ontonagon County as well.

“When we first started this, the testing supplies were limited. We could have had mild cases within the community that were never found. Now that we’re opening up the testing a bit more, it’s hard to get somebody to get tested if they don’t have symptoms. It’s hard for us to then gauge what level of infection is presenting in the community.”

Beer said they are continuing to test but believes there is a public perception that COVID-19 is not present so people are not getting tested. Another challenge in parts of the Upper Peninsula continues to be testing supplies.

“I know now that the supply chain is loosening up a little bit. We are encouraging people to get tested, but some places still don’t have enough supplies to do community testing. A lot of the hospitals in the area are reserving their testing for the pre-op patients. The reason for that is kind of protection of the staff too. So if someone is asymptomatic and has an operation coming up, and they do a COVID-19 test on them not only to protect them during surgery but to protect the staff during surgery. You don’t want to expose your limited operating rooms to somebody with COVID-19,” Beer says they are optimistically cautious that they’ll be able to move forward safely.

Beer said with the reopening of regions 6 and 8 in Michigan, which includes the entire Upper Peninsula as a medium risk area, she believes the Western U.P. is more of a low risk.

“At what point do we consider COVID-19 a normal virus or disease like we do the flu, where a doctor does a COVID-19 test as a regular diagnostic tool when someone presents as being ill? How do we make that more of an acceptable thing going forward? “Just like with flu, if you go to the doctor presenting flu-like symptoms, they test you for flu. When you go into a clinic with COVID-19 like symptoms they need to test you for COVID-19. “How do we normalize that within the population and still protect the population before we have a vaccine?”

When it comes to different kinds of testing, Beer explained why thy are focused more on nasal swabs and not antibody testing.

“There’s a little bit of a problem with the antibody testing right now. We’ve had such a low level of the virus in our community that the chances of getting a false positive are extremely high with those tests right now. The antibody test itself is not a diagnostic test. So if you go into a community clinic and get the nasal test, it’s a diagnostic test and we know what to do. We know to get you into isolation. When you have that antibody test, it just says that you may or may not have had the disease. It doesn’t say that you’re infectious or not infectious right now, so what do we do with that person who has the positive result? That will become more important as we begin to see more cases in the area and the state. That will inform at some level how many people were infected with it. But that’s in a larger group. On an individual level, that doesn’t really make sense,” said Beer.

Beer went on to say that one of biggest pieces of misinformation people have involves antibody testing and what happens once you’ve been tested.

“People think that they’re now immune to COVID-19 if they had a positive test result. So it could have been a false positive or it could mean that they have a small viral load. We don’t know if that means they are immune. There’s no research on that would suggest that somebody with a low viral load is immune to COVID-19 going forward. We don’t know how long they would be immune to COVID-19 going forward. Does that mean you’re immune for 6 months, a year, a day? There’s no research or evidence on that,” said Beer.

While health officials continue to monitor the number of cases and Ontonagon hopes to hold onto its clean record, Beer added that COVID-19 should not stop people from seeking regular medical attention.

“We want to make sure people continue that idea of good hygiene. Not many people may have noticed but our flu illness dropped too during this time of stay at home. So it just goes to show that some social distancing and some washing of hands goes a long way,” Beer said.

If you are looking for a place to get tested, you can find a location near you, here.

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