Houghton County passes COVID-19 resolution

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette The Houghton County Board discusses a resolution urging the public to take protective measures against COVID-19. Pictured are (from left): Glenn Anderson, Al Koskela, Tom Tikkanen, Roy Britz and Eric Forsberg.

HOUGHTON — The Houghton County Board unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday in support of complying with public health measures to fight COVID-19 and asking residents and businesses to comply with laws and guidelines. 

The measure was proposed by Jeff Ratcliffe, executive director of the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance (KEDA). If COVID-19 cases increase, it could lead to a return of business closures, as well as another end for in-person instruction at local universities, Ratcliffe said. Businesses are also being harmed by workers who have to go into quarantine, he said. 

“It’s a public health issue, it’s a community issue and it’s an economic issue,” he said. “We really are urging our local governments, our law enforcement to really take a more visible role in getting our population to understand this is a serious thing that we in the community can take steps to manage better.”

The rate of infection is 15 times less in Houghton County than nationally, said Commissioner Glenn Anderson. But in the past six weeks, the county’s COVID-19 numbers have tripled. 

In addition to the impacts on businesses where people quarantine, higher numbers also stress the area’s limited medical capacity, he said. 

“It just seems to me that a mask that’s less than $1 is worth trying to make an effort to make this area safer,” he said. “…You could have whole construction companies shut down for 14 days at a time when the market is strong.”

Some board members expressed differences with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders, but said complying with them provided the quickest way back to normalcy. 

Vice Chairman Tom Tikkanen said he would not support further shutdowns, or penalizing people who did not comply with the mandates. However, he said, he supported a compromise with those who are fearful of the virus. 

“I’m conservative,” he said. “I don’t appreciate what I feel are excessive steps taken by our governor. But that aside, I’m willing to do my part in the community out of respect for those who have health issues and also great anxiety about this virus.”

Like Tikkanen, Commissioner Roy Britz said law enforcement should not be required to enforce the mandates. But he agreed it was necessary to protect the elderly in the community. 

“I think this resolution is very clear that we ask to please follow the guidelines, which is exactly what we should be doing as a board, being leaders,” he said. 

Chairman Al Koskela wanted to see more detailed numbers put out about COVID-19, comparing them to the ones available in Lubbock, Texas, where there was a spike. Those included negative tests and the percentage of beds in use. 

“I think we need a more thorough list of what’s going on rather than just number of cases, because that doesn’t tell us anything,” he said. 

County resident David Coponen said the mask-wearing requirements and other executive orders presented an undue burden on the community. 

“We have big families, and these big families need support, they need to be working … if we start shutting down our businesses, where are we going with this?” he said.


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