N MI officials suggest visitors stay downstate during COVID-19

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — More Michigan residents are heading up north to escape urban areas with higher concentrations of confirmed coronavirus cases, but local officials in those northern towns want visitors to understand a few things before they make that decision.

The remote nature of communities like Traverse City, Gaylord and Petoskey also means there are fewer resources available, including groceries and medical care.

Health and government officials are also concerned about people who have northern vacation homes bringing the virus from downstate, so they are asking that anyone who travels to self-quarantine for at least 14 days.

“Don’t go to the grocery store. Don’t go to the pharmacy. Don’t seek health care unless you absolutely need to, because that’s the way that we can help control the spread to our community,” Dianne Michalek, a spokesperson for Munson Healthcare, said.

Munson is the sole healthcare provider for many of the northern Michigan towns, including Cadillac, Grayling and Traverse City. Michalek said the system already had many people calling to inquire about health care who have no history with Munson.

Gaylord Police Chief Frank Claeys understands it’s tempting to shelter in place in a more remote area where it feels safer, but also warns that the resources are much more limited.

“It’s certainly something they have a right to do, it’s just they should be aware of what they’re getting into,” he explained.

Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers is also asking out-of-town visitors or people who own vacation homes in the area to self-quarantine.

“That means no going to the grocery store, no going to the hardware store, no calling the handyman when you open your cottage and the pipes are broken or the electricity doesn’t work. If you want to come north, bring everything you need with you,” he said.

Carruthers is leading by example. He recently traveled out of the area and has been in a self-quarantine for the last 11 days.

“I’ve had zero contact with people. I’ve not been in a public space for the past 11 days.” he said. “We’re really encouraging people that it’s important to stop the spread of this virus. We need to stop the spread by stopping moving around.”

Owning a property in the area may be the only way to travel up north in certain cases. Pentwater city officials have suspended short-term rental licenses for the duration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, which will run at least until April 13.

Carruthers doesn’t like sending an unwelcoming message to visitors, but feels it’s necessary for everyone’s safety, not just the safety of the people in his town. He’s concerned that an elderly visitor could get sick and put themselves at risk by going to a northern hospital when metro areas have more services available.

“It’s not easy for a mayor of a tourist town to tell people not to come north. We value our snowbirds, our tourists, but we’re just concerned that we do not have the capability in our hospital systems to handle the onslaught,” he said.

Michalek, the Munson spokesperson, said the system is already much busier than usual as more cases are confirmed in northern counties. She agreed it doesn’t have the capacity to support a surge of patients coming in from outside the community.

“We are definitely concerned if there were to be a big spike in cases here,” she said.

She added that she understands people may be scared, but suggested sheltering in place downstate would be no different than doing so up north.

“We’re hoping people will make that distinction and just stay in place for now until this blows over,” Michalek said.

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