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Health Department struggles to stop public speculation

HANCOCK — The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department says it will not issue press releases on positive cases of COVID-19 disclosing the community in which the case is pending. The reason for the decision, said WUPHD Health Officer/Administrator Cathryn Beer, is a result of public hostility, rumor-spreading and speculation leading to false information in the community. She said while the complete information will eventually be made public, the department continues to debate how to accomplish that.

“When I do a press release on an individual positive,” she explained, “people are being raked over the coals in the community over it,” said Beer. “People are trying to figure out who that positive is, and where they’ve been.”

In reference to the swirl of speculation and rumors surrounding the recently released information of the positive COVID -19 test in Houghton County, Beer said that is exactly what the WUPHD is seeking to avoid.

“People are taking bits and pieces of various rumors and putting them together, and that’s were it really derails.”

A March 29 release from the WUPHD in reference to the first positive case of COVID-19 in Houghton County sparked community speculation and rumors over which hospital was handling the case and who the patient is.

“But I can tell you, the families that it impacts, that they know that people are talking about them, because people are not nice about it,” Beer said.

That is why she included in the press release the recommendation that people get their information from good and reliable sources to gather information.

“At this time, I advise the public to be diligent, yet level-headed in prevention efforts,” Beer stated in the release. “I urge you to get your information and situation updates from reputable sources such as the Health Department or your physician.”

Beer said she also advised the WUPHD to stop posting Michigan COVID-19 numbers on their website, because doing so creates more turmoil and confusion.

“Then, (the readers) start arguing that the numbers that we posted are not the right numbers that are currently on the website,” she explained. “Those were posted a couple of hours before.”

The most effective way to keep the number of positive COVID-19 cases low throughout the Upper Peninsula is for everyone to diligently observe the Stay home, Stay Safe order and to maintain social distancing. The orders put in place by Governor Gretchen Whitmer were done so on the recommendations of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Beer has said repeatedly that “We need to understand that this is probably already wide-spread in the community,” and to take the necessary and recommended steps to avoiding the virus. The best way to accomplish that is by only leaving home when absolutely necessary and when it is necessary to leave home, diligently practice social distancing.

It is necessary to go to grocery stores. In order for people to know how to protect themselves while shopping, the WUPHD recently posted a guide, “Social Distancing in Grocery Stores” on its Facebook site. Because not everyone uses social media, the guide is posted above.

In the meantime, Beer said the WUPHD is continuing to work on ways to get information to the public without it creating wide-spread panic.

“So, we are trying to get a method of reporting our testing out the partners here,” she said.

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