Interviews with Dr. Lorinser, medical director of Marquette County Health Department, and LSSU President Dr. Hanley uncover some positive news about the U.P. COVID-19 status and progress in our business communities.
UPPER PENINSULA, MI (April 29, 2021) — After a year of challenges and sacrifices, we’re all ready for a bit of good news. Recently, Dr. Bob Lorinser, medical director of Marquette County Health Department, and Dr. Rod Hanley, president of Lake Superior State University, shared some encouraging reports on what the UP is doing right during the pandemic and the path to a way out.
What’s the impact of COVID-19 on the UP right now?
Dr. Lorinser: According to the Michigan Economic Recovery Council (MERC), as of mid-April the UP region has the lowest positivity rate, case rate, death rate, and percent of inpatient beds occupied by patients with COVID-19 of any of the MERC regions. We’ve had two surges, one in November–December, and another that started in March. We’re coming down from the second surge right now.
Why is the UP doing so well?
Dr. Lorinser: People in the UP, especially the most vulnerable, are getting vaccinated. More than 70% of UP residents 65 and over have started or completed their vaccination series. That’s huge. That likely accounts for the decreased numbers of hospitalizations and deaths we’ve had as compared to November–December. As of April 27, 48% of people from all age groups in the UP have received at least one vaccine dose.
Containing a virus on campus is challenging, but LSSU has some of the lowest numbers of cases in the state. How have you done so well?
Dr. Hanley: We’ve done a lot of testing — if a student wants a test, they get one. We’re also hosting vaccine clinics on campus. About six weeks ago we had the largest vaccine clinic in the Eastern UP. And we emphasize personal responsibility over strict rules and sanctions. I think people appreciate choosing to be part of the solution rather than being forced. Our strategy has been effective so far.
Do you think the UP’s vaccine rates could have a positive impact on the business community?
Dr. Hanley: I do. I think it sends the signal that it’s safe to do business here. We’ve had some spikes here and there, but compared to other areas of the state and other areas of the country, the UP has been remarkably safe. It’s a great place to live, to learn, and to work. A positive view of vaccination only enhances that.
Let’s talk more about safety. Is COVID more dangerous than the vaccine?
Dr. Lorinser: Absolutely.
How many people in the UP have been hospitalized as a result of getting the vaccine?
Dr. Lorinser: No one has been hospitalized in the UP from the vaccine itself. We have not had one person go to the emergency room from our vaccination clinics. I know some other clinics have had people that fainted or had a mild allergic reaction, but it’s very few and far between.
So, are the vaccines safe?
Dr. Lorinser: Absolutely. I think people tend to have a hard time putting risk in perspective. Consider a woman in her middle to late fifties. COVID is the third leading cause of death in that age group. Cancer is number one, heart disease is number two. Her chance of dying if she gets COVID is about three in 1000. Her risk of dying from the vaccine is about one in a million — maybe even less.
I can’t say the vaccines are risk-free. But among the many vaccines throughout the U.S., long-term consequences are really rare and they show up pretty quickly.
Can you briefly explain herd immunity?
Dr. Lorinser: Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected. It means there’s no need for mitigation to prevent infection like masking and social distancing. It means return to life as we knew it. This can happen by vaccination, previous infection, a lessening or eradication of the virus through mutation, or a combination of them. Reaching the levels of infection needed to achieve herd immunity without a vaccine will be devastating, leading to an extraordinary number of deaths. Waiting for the possibility of the virus becoming less virulent isn’t a good bet. Vaccines are the way to go.
How close is the UP to herd immunity?
Dr. Lorinser: If we consider the number of people who have been vaccinated, the number who have been infected and recovered, and those who have been infected and didn’t know about it, we’re probably starting to see some herd immunity. But we’re not all the way there. Look at our rates—we’re still seeing infections. But the peak is not as high, so that’s really encouraging. It’s difficult to give an exact percentage we need to reach, but it does feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Do you have a forecast for how the UP looks to be set up with the summer approaching?
Dr. Lorinser: Everyone can predict the future but most predictions are wrong. COVID-19 is a seasonal virus. It’s worse in the winter, so summer approaching will be beneficial. Add to this herd immunity and more activity outdoors—where it is more difficult to transmit the virus—things are looking good. There is the threat of variants that could escape the protection of our current vaccines. This situation could be terrible. It is my biggest worry regarding vaccine hesitancy. Please, please, please get your vaccine.
Why should we get vaccinated, aside from personal responsibility and reducing our own risk?
Dr. Hanley: We all want to get back to normal. And the easiest, most efficient way to do that is for everyone to get vaccinated. We’re all tired of wearing face masks and social distancing. I encourage everyone on campus, as conscientious community members, to get vaccinated so we can get back to that sense of normality as soon as possible.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t also throw in a plug for the UP. My family and I used to live in Nashville, Tennessee where I had an hour and a half commute each way to work. Now here in the UP, I have a four-minute walk to work. The quality of life here is off the charts. And so, for me, the vaccine allows us to maintain that high quality of life. We all just need to do our part.
InvestUP is a private sector-led economic development organization keenly focused on driving economic growth across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Founded by the region’s leading private sector businesses and the region’s universities, its mission is to deliver business and job growth across the peninsula.