U.P. COVID-19 community town hall series continues as Michigan COVID-19 cases increase

HOUGHTON — As COVID-19 cases decline nationwide, Michigan has seen a steady increase in cases since July. To help keep community members informed, Michigan Tech University continues to deliver a virtual U.P. COVID-19 Town Halls Series. Organized by the Health Research Institute, the 60-minute Town Halls are broadcasted live on Zoom, Facebook Live, and 97.7 The Wolf (WOLV-FM) the final Thursday of each month.

Over the course of the series, moderated by professors Steven Elmer and Kelly Kamm from the Department of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology, clinicians, public health officials, researchers, and community experts have discussed a range of pandemic-related issues and answered questions from the community. The goal of the series is to increase community awareness about COVID-19 and how it impacts health and society.

The most recent Town Hall focused on the “Lessons learned during the pandemic.” The speaker panel included Pete Baril, director of Community Planning and Preparedness at the Western UP Health Department, Karl Meingast, manager of the Michigan Tech COVID-19 Testing Laboratory, John Clements, assistant professor in the Division of Public Health at Michigan State University, Erich Petushek, assistant professor in the Department of Cognitive and Learning Science at Michigan Tech, and Joshua Vissers, editor of the Late Edition.

Clements explained that public health interventions such as mask wearing, quarantining, contact tracing, and vaccinations are not new and in fact have been used effectively for centuries. Indeed, quarantining and contact tracing have been documented as far back as the Bubonic Plague in the 1300’s and are used today to protect the health of our communities from certain infectious diseases. Vaccinations for small pox helped play a role in defeating the British during the Revolutionary War. Reluctance to wearing masks and mass gathering restrictions were also prevalent during the 1918 Spanish Flu. Fast forward to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Michigan Tech setup a COVID-19 Testing Laboratory to meet the testing demands of the Western Upper Peninsula. A key factor to reduce spread of COVID-19 in a community is the speed at which the test results are provided. Meingast indicated that the laboratory has performed over 35,000 tests to service both the campus and broader community. Earlier this year, both houses of the Michigan Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II recognized the Michigan Tech COVID-19 Testing Laboratory for its contributions to community health and safety.

Another important message for the community centered around health information. Due to the rapidly involving nature of the pandemic and amount of misinformation circulating it can be difficult to keep up and stay informed. Vissers encouraged community members to consume a healthy amount of news, not too much and not too little, and be aware of where the news is coming from. Websites that end in .gov, .edu. and .org have more credibility that those websites that end in .com websites which include social media.

Since starting the virtual COVID-19 Town Hall Series in September of 2020, over 100 trusted experts from the community have participated in 20 Town Halls. All of the Town Halls are recorded, archived, and can be viewed on the Health Research Institute website and YouTube Channel. Each Town Hall is also re-broadcasted the Sunday after each live broadcast on ABC 10 at 12 p.m. ET. An in-depth look at the many facets of the COVID-19 pandemic will take place next on Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. The continuation of the Town Hall Series is in response to the US Surgeon General’s Advisory Statement to Build a Healthy Information Environment which tasks educators, researchers, and health professionals to confront health misinformation and help improve the quality of health information so that community members can make informed decisions about their health and the health of their family and community.

The U.P. COVID-19 Town Hall Series is made possible through support from numerous community and professional organizations including UP Health System-Portage, Aspirus, Aspirus Iron Area Health Foundation, Upper Peninsula Power Company, MTEC Smart Zone, Physiological Society, and Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

For more information on the U.P. COVID-19 Town Hall Series, please visit https://www.mtu.edu/health-research/covid19townhall/


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