If you travel here from afar, please self-quarantine for 14 days!

By Jacob Wheeler

Sun editor

COVID-19, coronavirus—the pandemic that has swept the globe and killed more than 16,000, worldwide—is here in Leelanau County, too. A man tested positive for COVID-19 at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City last week after driving here from out of state. (He was released from the hospital this past Friday.)

Nevertheless, the majority of Michigan’s more than 1,300 coronavirus cases have been recorded downstate in heavily populated areas—Detroit and Oakland County, in particular. Michigan places fifth, nationwide, in the number of cases. To date, 15 Michiganders have died of COVID-19.

Tourists and owners of vacation homes here could easily conclude that rural northwest Michigan is a safer place to be than in a densely populated metro area. Our Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has the hiking trails, the forests and the beaches that allow us to self isolate in a beautiful place.

But that conclusion is a dangerous one. Here in the Grand Traverse region—as with rural areas across the United States—Munson Medical Center is woefully unprepared to accept a deluge of infected COVID-19 patients.

According to a March 15 Traverse City Record-Eagle story, Munson has 29 adult ventilators available at its Traverse City hospital, six infant ventilators, and three oscillatory ventilators. Across the entire Munson Healthcare system, 81 ventilators are available. All hospitals across the country are preparing for an influx of patients with COVID-19, which wreaks havoc on the lungs.

It doesn’t take a mathematician to calculate that, if thousands of people in our region contracted coronavirus and needed to be hospitalized, they would quickly overrun our fragile, and small, healthcare system.

And yet, this weekend Glen Arbor and other Leelanau County towns didn’t appear as quiet as they usually do in late March, with the last remnants of snow still lingering in the forest. Several locals commented on social media that they saw many cars with out-of-state license plates. One local citizen observed a vehicle filled with 20-somethings from Oakland County stopping at a local restaurant to get takeout food.

There appears to be an influx of travelers coming north to ride out the coronavirus storm, and that has some locals worried.

Traverse City mayor Jim Carruthers wrote the following on Facebook Monday:

“If you have friends and family downstate figuring since they are out of work they may as well just come UpNorth to the cottage, please encourage them not to. The possibility of bring infection from areas with more covid19 positive results to areas with less, like the Grand Traverse region, is highly possible. Our health care systems are having a hard enough time here dealing with this virus to challenge them further. Please stay at home and wait this out. We must flatten the curve if we want to stop the spread of the dangerous virus.”

It shouldn’t need to be stated, but Leelanau County is not a tourism destination right now. We’re in the eye of the coronavirus storm, just like every community in the nation and on the planet. And we will be for weeks to come.

We’re not being tribal or territorial. Our economy, indeed our way of life, rises and falls with tourism. Normally, we welcome you with open arms. But you the visitor needs to understand that traveling here from a metro region, or from a foreign country, means that you may be carrying the virus with you. Indeed, everyone should assume they have it. Everyone should practice social distancing when outside their home. Everyone should neurotically wash their hands and keep at least six feet away from the nearest person.

We collectively need to practice social isolation to slow the human-to-human airborne spread of this pandemic. This nation might not have enough hospital beds, enough masks, enough ventilators to care for all the patients who may become infected with COVID-19. And a vaccine is probably many long months away. So we need to buy time—by slowing down this monster. That’s why Michigan, and more and more states across the nation, are on near lockdown. Schools are closed, restaurants and bars are closed to everything except curbside takeout. Malls, shops, salons and gyms are closed. It’s all to stop this virus.

If you own a second home on the Glen Lakes or elsewhere in Leelanau County, no one’s going to stop you from coming north right now. It’s your right. We get it, you love this place. We all do. However, when you arrive here, you MUST self-quarantine in your dwelling for 14 days. No exceptions. No exceptions. Because you may be carrying the virus.

If you absolutely need to venture out for groceries and necessary supplies, you’re lucky that Anderson’s Market and most Leelanau County grocery stores offer delivery and curbside pickup if you pre-order. Area restaurants also made a quick pivot to serve takeout food—after Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer made the bold but necessary decision to close restaurants and bars.

Just know that life in Leelanau County right now is anything but tourism as usual. No gathering in crowds. No dinner or drinks at a local restaurant. If you pick up supplies at Anderson’s or the Leland Mercantile or Hansen Foods in Suttons Bay, use the hand sanitizer dispenser near the entrance—both when you arrive and when you leave.

Respect the new order in our community, in every community. We’re trying to collectively and lovingly ride out this awful storm. Don’t rock the boat.

Take it from Leland Township supervisor Susan Och, who posted the following on Facebook:

I’m hearing anecdotes about summer folk returning to our area early in order to escape the Covid-19 virus and the attendant restrictions. Leelanau has long been perceived as a haven from the world’s trouble, including epidemics, but we are not immune and we have been working hard to keep the virus from spreading. Our nation is at a critical juncture right now, when minding the call for social distancing can make a huge difference in how this crisis unfolds. 

I know that some people are returning thoughtfully and taking the appropriate precautions. And I know that some people just don’t get it yet. This advice is for those if the middle, who want to come north, but need to know how to do it in the safest way possible.

Things here are not the same. The restaurants, beauty parlors, library, bars, movie theater, bank lobbies, anyplace where you would normally meet people, are all closed. Dentists and doctors have been told to only see patients in an emergency. The groceries, post office, and hardware store are open, but you will be expected to refrain from standing around gabbing. 

If you come up north, be prepared to stay away from people for a while. If you need to have someone come over to turn things on, have them do it before you get here. Bring groceries or get curbside pickup from Meijer or the Merc or Anderson’s. Many of the restaurants are trying to eke by on take out orders, please patronize them. Maintaining a healthy distance, even while outside, is key.