Words of cautious optimism
THE TOURISTS ARE here! NMU students are returning! We’re all doomed!
That’s the fear that gripped many of us midway through the summer in Marquette County. It was a legitimate concern since it meant that many “outsiders,” most of whom lived in areas with higher COVID infection rates, were coming to the UP, where infection rates had generally been low.
And to be fair, that may yet happen but so far, at least, the results here have been less than calamitous.
Our conversation with Dr. Kevin Piggott, the medical director for Marquette County, reveals his observations and concerns–a mix of small doses of optimism and pessimism with a heavy dose of data-driven reality.
NMU’s testing numbers look remarkably good–less than a half percent of students and staff testing positive. Are you surprised?
“I am glad to see the percent test positivity remained low,” Dr. Piggott says. “The first group of people tested were basically from the Marquette community, but the second group was predominantly from elsewhere. There was the potential for this group to have a higher test positivity rate, but fortunately did not.”
So why was NMU’s rate actually lower than Marquette County’s? In all likelihood, Dr. Piggott says, because the county’s numbers included many people who had experienced symptoms or had exposure, whereas NMU’s numbers were ostensibly healthy people who had shown no COVID symptoms.
Still only 18 deaths from COVID in the UP. That’s gotta be encouraging, right?
Yes, he says, and then he adds this:
“The number of cases in Marquette County is actually decreasing if the ‘imported’ cases at NMU are not included.”
He provides numbers that show that Marquette County in May recorded four cases. In June, it was 18. In July it was 61…Yikes! But in August as of Friday morning, the number of cases, without the additional NMU cases, totaled only 30.
Progress, it seems.
So what’s the current official COVID status of Marquette County and the UP?
“The UP continues to be in the medium-high risk range,” Dr. Piggott says. “As far as Marquette County, we recently reached high risk territory. But again, that was not due to the transmission of the virus in our community. Rather, it was due to the return of 8000 students to our community. Without the NMU surveillance tests, Marquette remained in the medium-high risk range, and may be dropping to medium risk.”
Does it look like we’re in the “second wave” of the virus, or is this still part of the first wave?
“We’re in the first wave. The nation has not ever dropped to the endemic level.”
We’d been told by some that COVID might ease with the warmer summer months. That doesn’t seem to have been the case, does it?
“That was commonly stated back in late winter and early spring in hopes that this coronavirus would act like influenza,” Dr. Piggott says.
That prediction–and hope–was simply wrong. Medical experts are learning more about COVID as the months go by and more patients are treated, but there are still plenty of unknowns.
Do we run the risk of having more restrictions imposed if the numbers climb again?
“If the numbers climb,” Dr. Piggott concludes, “it can be expected that Governor Whitmer, in conjunction with her team, will reassess the current categorization, and adjust if it’s indicated.”
So yes, more restrictions could be re-imposed here if we’re not careful…and lucky.
In the meantime, the keys remain masks, social distancing, hand-washing, and testing . And patience.