Local Health Departments Serve as Community Resource
Health Departments have always been a source of information about the Coronavirus. But as the rules are changing weekly and events are getting cancelled left and right, those same Health Departments are also becoming a daily resource for residents and event planners.
Lisa Peacock is the Health Officer for the Northwest Michigan Health Department, and the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department. “People always need to know, what are the risks that I’m facing and what can I do about it?”
For the past two months, it seems the Coronavirus is in charge. Its effect on local communities is wide-reaching. Health Departments in Benzie, Leelanau, and Grand Traverse Counties say they get calls every day with questions about the virus, rules for businesses that are re-opening, the use of masks, and physical distancing. Peacock says, “The phone is definitely ringing off the hook and we are responding to those calls.” The same is true in Grand Traverse County.
When it comes to cancelling larger events like the National Cherry Festival or the Buckley Old Engine Show, Health Departments are routinely in touch with organizers before a decision is made. “And if they can’t know for sure in a certain period of time that allows them enough time for planning then they do have to make decisions sometimes that require cancellations so we’ve definitely seen that.”
Planners have a lot of resources, volunteers, and outside contracts to get in to place well ahead of the actual event. That explains why events that are still months away are affected now. “We don’t know when that turning point will be when we can move forward with larger gatherings. But without a vaccine it’s really hard to imagine that that could potentially be safe,” says Peacock.
Monday’s announcement from the Governor about re-opening bar, restaurants, and retail in northern Michigan led to a surge in phone calls as well. Peacock reminds residents, “We are not out of the woods yet. We appreciate the slow and careful phased approach to reopening. We’re really grateful to our partners at MDHHS who pulled us in to the conversation before the announcement was made and got the input of all the local health officers in northern Michigan, both the UP and the northern lower peninsula.”
Health Officer Wendy Hirschenberger with the Grand Traverse County Health Department says she was surprised by Monday’s announcement, however. Regardless, health departments across the state are working to provide information to their residents. Peacock says, “There’s a full spectrum of concerns. On one end of the spectrum there’s the people that are not concerned at all and would prefer not to do any precautionary measures. On the other end you have people who are terrified to leave their home.”
And the key for all of us, Peacock says, is finding the recommendations that lie somewhere in the middle.