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Saturday, January 02, 2021

Guest Article: Clarification of Facts and Hope for the New Year

By Kate Beer, Health Officer, Western Upper Peninsula Health Department*

First, I am writing to clarify the facts surrounding the issuance of fines to Cafe Rosetta in Calumet, MI. To date, the food establishment has received two citations -- totaling $5,000 -- from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).

The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD) provides local inspection and licensure of food establishments under the Michigan Food Law, as delegated under contract with the State of Michigan, through Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD).

WUPHD received over 100 complaints from local residents that stated Cafe Rosetta was operating in violation of current Emergency Epidemic Orders, issued by Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, by allowing indoor dining. Upon investigation of these complaints, WUPHD issued a warning order finding imminent danger to public health, giving the owner a chance to limit service to takeout only. The owner ignored the warning and WUPHD issued an Order to Cease and Desist Food Operations, which was also ignored.

The matter was referred to the MDARD and MDHHS. MDARD followed-up up with their own Cease and Desist order that went unanswered and was followed by an Emergency Suspension Order of their food license. This suspension was recently upheld by an Administrative Law Judge. 

MDHHS issued an administrative citation and a civil fine of $1,000 for violation of the Emergency Orders and later a second civil fine of $4,000 for failure to comply. As far as WUPHD is aware, no further fines or penalties were levied after Cafe Rosetta filed an appeal of their license suspension.

WUPHD has not issued any fines or penalties related to this facility.

Our approach is always to provide prevention education first. During this time, out of over 400 restaurants in our five-county jurisdiction, the WUPHD has referred only four establishments to MDARD and MDHHS, based upon consumer complaints. Three of these establishments worked with agency staff to re-open for takeout within days of the referrals. Cafe Rosetta is the only establishment that continued to provide indoor dining rather than takeout only. One additional establishment has recently opened in violation of their signed compliance agreement. The majority of our licensed food establishments are following the Emergency Epidemic Orders, working with the community to prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Second, I am writing to encourage our communities to continue to come together to fight this virus. Our goal has not changed: mitigation of the spread of COVID-19, ensuring that our local and regional healthcare systems are not overwhelmed, until a solution can be found.

There is new hope on the horizon as local healthcare entities are receiving and administering COVID-19 vaccine. Granted, vaccinating the almost 70,000 residents of our district will take time, but certainly the promise of getting back to some form of "normal" provides considerable motivation for us all.

We have been fighting this virus together for almost a year. Our children attending school in person, the ability to visit our parents and grandparents in nursing homes, holding large community events, and yes, eventually going in public without a mask are certainly worth fighting for a little bit longer.

* Editor's Note: This article appeared as a Letter to the Editor in The Daily Mining Gazette on Jan. 2, 2021. We requested and received permission from Guest Author Kate Beer to reprint the letter here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Western UP Health Department begins administering COVID-19 Vaccine; Gov. Whitmer signs relief bills

Courtney Karttunen, public health nurse, receives the vaccine from WUPHD Director of Public Health Nursing Cari Digiorgio. (Photo courtesy Western Upper Peninsula Health Department)

HANCOCK -- The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD) began vaccinating priority groups today, Dec. 29, with recently received Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine. As limited supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine have started to arrive in the area, residents are asking, "When will COVID-19 vaccine be available to me?"

WUPHD expects vaccine administration to roll out over a series of months and is working with area hospitals, physicians, and outpatient clinics to distribute available vaccines according to a phased approach that has been adopted by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The phased vaccination approach allows for continued functioning of the health care system and essential services in the community, while protecting people at increased risk for severe COVID-19 illness. These prioritizations may change as more information on vaccine effectiveness and additional vaccine products become available.

The current prioritized phases and estimated time lines are as follows:

PHASE 1A -- DECEMBER AND JANUARY

Priority 1: Critical health care
Priority 2: Long-term care staff and residents
Priority 3: Necessary health care

PHASE 1B -- MID JANUARY

Frontline essential workers who keep critical infrastructure functioning, and people age 75 years and older.

PHASE 1C -- MID FEBRUARY

Individuals at risk of severe illness (people age 65-74 years, and people age 16-74 years with high risk medical conditions) and some other essential workers whose work must be performed on site.

PHASE 2 -- END OF MARCH/EARLY APRIL

All other individuals age 16 years or older.

The state and region are currently working through the Phase 1A priorities. Additional media announcements will be made as new phases are reached.

There is no out-of-pocket cost to individuals for the vaccine; however, healthcare providers may bill insurance for administration costs. The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine requires two doses separated by 28 days, while the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine requires two doses separated by 21 days. Individuals should receive both doses in order to be considered fully vaccinated.

The COVID-19 vaccine is critical in slowing the spread and helping communities recover from the pandemic. Stopping the pandemic will take ALL our tools: handwashing, masks, social distancing and vaccines. Together, these tools offer the best chance of getting our communities, schools, and work sites back to normal. WUPHD reminds residents to continue using prevention strategies as vaccines become more widely distributed and for some time after.

Gov. Whitmer: Wearing masks saves lives

LANSING -- In her latest COVID-19 Update today, Dec. 29, Michigan Governor Whitmer said, "Studies have shown that if we all wear masks until the vaccine is widely distributed we will save hundreds of thousands of lives in the United States."

Governor Whitmer also noted she is urging the Michigan Legislature to pass legislation that would require wearing masks in public -- a policy that has bipartisan support and would help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Whitmer signs $106 Million bipartisan relief bill, bills extending unemployment benefits to 26 weeks

Gov. Whitmer signs relief bills on Dec. 29, 2020. (Photo courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

Today, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the bipartisan relief bill that the Michigan legislature passed after she urged them to provide support for Michigan families, frontline workers, and small businesses. The relief bill includes $55 million to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19. Grants of up to $20,000 will be made available to small businesses across the state that need support this winter. The relief bill also includes $3.5 million for grants of up to $40,000 each for live music and entertainment venues, and includes $45 million in direct payments to workers who have been laid off or furloughed as a result of the virus.

"I proposed this stimulus plan to the legislature in November because I know how much our families, frontline workers, and small businesses need relief. This bipartisan bill will provide families and businesses the support they need to stay afloat as we continue working to distribute the safe and effective vaccine and eliminate COVID-19 once and for all," said Governor Whitmer. "There is still more work to do to eliminate this virus and grow our economy. All Michiganders have a personal responsibility to do their part and mask up, practice safe social distancing, and avoid indoor gatherings where the virus can easily spread from person to person. We will beat this virus together."

The governor also signed bipartisan Senate Bill 604 extending unemployment benefits for Michiganders who have lost work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic from 20 to 26 weeks until the end of March 2021. Senate Bill 604 was sponsored by Senator Curtis Hertel.

"No Michigander should have to worry about how to put food on the table or pay their bills, especially during a global pandemic," said Governor Whitmer. "These bipartisan bills are an important step in providing immediate relief for working families, but there is more work to do. I urge the legislature to take further action to make this permanent. 40 states, including all of our neighbors, automatically provide at least 26 weeks of unemployment relief. Michiganders deserve better than a short-term extension that expires in March. It’s time to work together on a bipartisan, long-term solution for working families."

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Whitmer and her administration have worked around the clock to ensure benefits for Michiganders who have lost work because of the virus. Since March 15, Governor Whitmer’s administration has paid nearly $27 billion in benefits to nearly 2.3 million workers.

Click here to see a video of Gov. Whitmer's Dec. 29 press conference.

For more information on COVID-19 please visit www.wuphd.org, michigan.gov/coronavirus, or cdc.gov/coronavirus.