Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Iron County nears 100 COVID cases


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HurleyIron County is approaching a total of 100 residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the coronavirus was first detected in the county as the county health department announced new positives Thursday.

As of Thursday, Iron County has had 98 residents test positive for COVID-19 since the health department announced the first case in the county in late March, with 77 of those cases now considered recovered. The county has had three of the cases require hospitalization, and the single death is the first case announced in March.

As department officials continue to work to inform the public of the risks associated with the pandemic, the department released a new exposure site Tuesday, announcing someone with COVID-19 was at the Great Northern Motel and Wolf’s Den Bar & Grill in Mercer during an Aug. 8 event and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 12.

Department officials continued to stress that the announcement of exposure sites aren’t intended to blame any businesses or individuals, but rather provide the public with information so they know they may need to monitor their symptoms, and isolate themselves or get tested, if they were at a place that increased the risk of catching the virus.

Tuesday’s announcement is the fourth Mercer exposure site released in the last week, with 16 new positive cases announced in the county over that same time period.

In response to a question about concerns over the possibility of the Loon Day festival in Mercer on Aug. 5 causing an increase in cases, health department officials said they haven’t specifically tied the increase to that event but the recent uptick in cases is due to people gathering and attending events.

“I can’t necessarily say it’s Loon Day specifically, but I can say it’s gatherings and events in Mercer. Obviously there’s a direct correlation,” said Zona Wick, the department’s public information officer. “Anytime you have events and gatherings of people, you have increased risk of COVID. And now, we’re seeing increased cases.”

She said she was including going to bars or restaurants in what she was considering as gatherings.

Data obtained during the contact tracing process shows the percent of people with confirmed COVID cases who attended a gathering or other meet up with people outside their home in the past two weeks in Wisconsin rose from 7% of cases in May to 21% and 20% in June and July respectively, the department said Thursday.

Regarding questions she has heard from the public about why the department hasn’t listed any grocery stores, gas stations or similar venues as exposure sites, Wick explained the nature of the risk was different sitting at a bar compared to buying groceries.

“We don’t generally list those because there’s not that time factor in there. We consider a contact as at least 15 minutes and closer than 6 feet, some of these places like grocery stores and gas stations people are just in and out, so they don’t have that lengthy contact.” Wick said. “Sometimes that gets confusing, people get upset, ‘Well, why aren’t you listing other places?’ That’s the reason, the public hasn’t been exposed for long period of times (with) that direct contact.”

Wick said the department always notifies businesses prior to an announcement as an exposure site, and the businesses have often announced the news prior to the health department’s official statement. Wick said the department also offers to work with businesses to help move forward if needed.

In Michigan, Gogebic County reported a total of 128 positive cases and an additional nine probables as of Wednesday, according to information on the state’s website. The information showed Ontonagon County had 28 positives and two additional probables.

Health officials in both states continue to urge people to wear masks when in public, social distance, frequently wash their hands and stay home or limit travel as much as possible. The Iron County Health Department released a graphic Wednesday showing that a person infected with COVID-19 can spread it to 2-3 additional people if preventative measures aren’t taken, meaning a single infection can spread to 406 people over a 30 day period.