Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

UP moved back to Phase 4 as court limits Whitmer's powers


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Although a Michigan Supreme Court ruling later in the day called into question her powers to impose restrictions designed to halt the spread of COVID-19 in the state; Gov. Gretchen Whitmer moved the Upper Peninsula back to Phase 4 of the MI Safe Start Plan Friday, due to the region’s rise in cases.

“After seeing the increase in cases in the U.P. region over the past several weeks and consulting with medical experts, I have decided to take action to protect U.P. families and move the region back a phase. I know this is hard. I know it will be an adjustment. But we can’t let our guard down,” Whitmer said in the announcement. “COVID-19 is still a very real threat to our families, frontline workers and small businesses. Everyone should implement these changes as swiftly as possible. This virus doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, a Republican or a Democrat, young or old. No one is immune. Right now the most effective weapon we have is pretty simple: it’s wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth. It’s washing your hands with soap and water. And maintaining six feet of physical distance from one another. Let’s all be smart and stay safe.”

The move back to Phase 4, which Whitmer’s announcement said takes effect at the end of this week, imposes several restrictions that were in place and then lifted for the region earlier in the pandemic.

These include: those people who can work remotely are required to do so, limits on social gatherings, stores limiting the number of people in them based on their square footage and schools requiring students to wear masks at most times — including in the classroom.

In making the move, Whitmer cited the fact the U.P. has seen a rise in cases beginning in late June and “right now” has the “the most concerning numbers in the state.

“The most recent case rate, adjusting for lag, has the region with 283 absolute cases per million and 5.1% positivity,” Whitmer’s announcement reads.

Local numbers

The state’s coronavirus website reports Gogebic County has had a total of 160 positive cases and 15 additional probable cases as of Saturday. Ontonagon County has had 44 positive cases and one probable, according to the state’s site.

These numbers are a slight increase from the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department’s Thursday update, which had Gogebic County with 157 positives and 13 probables and Ontonagon County at 42 positives and one probable. Of those, the health department considered 13 Gogebic County cases and two Ontonagon cases as active Thursday.

Court ruling

Although the order doesn’t take effect until Friday, Whitmer’s announcement said people should adopt the new practices as swiftly as possible.

Less than two hours after making the announcement regarding the change in phases, the Michigan Supreme Court declared the 1945 law Whitmer repeatedly used as the basis for restrictions during the pandemic unconstitutional. The court ruled the law gave the governor “unchecked authority,” according to The Associated Press, and puts the future of the restrictions around the state in jeopardy.

In a statement regarding the decision, Whitmer said she disagreed with the court’s interpretation of the Michigan Constitution and said the ruling doesn’t take effect for at least 21 days.

“And, until then, my emergency declaration and orders retain the force of law,” Whitmer said in the statement. “Furthermore, after 21 days, many of the responsive measures I have put in place to control the spread of the virus will continue under alternative sources of authority that were not at issue in today’s ruling.”

On Monday, Whitmer’s office said she filed a motion with the state supreme court urging them to clarify that their order doesn’t take effect until Oct. 30.


The Hurley School District sent a letter home updating to parents Friday announcing three asymptomatic students had tested positive for COVID-19.

District Administrator Kevin Genisot wrote the district, with the support of the Iron County Health Department, had developed “a solid plan” to take appropriate action when contact tracing was necessary.

“A perfect example of this occurred yesterday when we had three students all test positive, but would not have known if they had not been tested, as all three were asymptomatic,” Genisot wrote. “The parents decided to move forward with testing after they were notified of a close contact through the contact tracing procedures of the Iron County health officials.”

The letter also said there have been multiple students who had shown two or more symptoms and had tests come back negative, as had three staff members.

Genisot wrote that it was clear from the beginning that there was a good probability there would be staff or students who tested positive for COVID and that is likely true for both the remainder of this year, as well as next year.

Genisot said all parents of students who could have been exposed will be alerted whenever there is a positive case among the students or staff in the district. Any student’s name wouldn’t be disclosed in future cases, Genisot wrote, but the names of the specific staff member would be released.

“The entire school contact list is not made aware of cases where the interaction or contact doesn’t directly apply to them,” Genisot said, adding parents could reach out to him to discuss any issues of importance.

No schools in Gogebic or Ontonagon counties are listed on the Michigan website tracking outbreaks in educational facilities, as of last week’s update.

Iron County has had 147 confirmed cases among its residents, according to the Iron County Health Department’s Friday update, with eight of those case considered active.

The health department warned that the regional health systems — including Aspirus, Ascension and Marshfield — report COVID-related hospitalizations and patients testing positive are on the rise.

“(The regional health systems) have been working hard for the last six months to prepare for this surge, but the increased case numbers are stressing the resources of health system staff and hospital bed availability,” an Iron County Health Department spokesperson said Friday.

Health officials continue to urge people to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently.