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By Carol Stiffler

The coronavirus is creeping closer to the U.P.

As of Tuesday morning, 350 people in Michigan were being monitored for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Though there are no confirmed cases yet in Michigan, there are presently four cases in Chicago, one in Madison, Wis., and 17 in Toronto, Canada. Nationwide, there were 105 known cases spread amongst 15 states in the United States on Tuesday. And there’s no telling how many actual cases there are in the country, since most people will experience symptoms so mild they may not even know they’re infected.

On Friday, February 28, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the assessment of coronavirus to the highest level of risk. Their message: Get ready; it’s coming.

Though the Upper Peninsula enjoys a remote location and a low population density, it has never been spared from the seasonal flu. And since the highly contagious coronavirus spreads much like the flu, it has the potential to reach our area, according to Kerry Ott, public information officer for the LMAS District Health Department.

“It seems like the planet is much smaller than it used to be,” Ott said. “I can’t say that it won’t come here. We do have universities in the Upper Peninsula. We have travelers who come and visit Pictured Rocks, and Mackinac Island. They come from around the world. It’s just a matter of being aware and being prepared.”

The LMAS health department is not currently aware of any district residents at risk or in need of being monitored, she said. But they’re not sitting idle.

“We are doing everything to make sure our staff is prepared to respond,” Ott said.

The Center for Disease Control has announced that it’s not a matter of if, but when there is an outbreak at some level in the United States.  “But the United States is probably as prepared, if not more prepared, than any country on the planet,” she said.

The death rate, which officials estimate is approximately 2.3%, is not much different than the typical seasonal influenza, which killed 19,000 Americans in 2019. Death rates for COVID-19 appear higher because many people who contract the virus don’t get sick enough to visit the doctor, said Ott. Those infections will never be recorded and without record of them, they can’t be factored in to bring the death rate figure down.

About 80 percent of people who catch the virus will experience only mild symptoms, with a small percentage of people experiencing severe symptoms and dying. Symptoms include a fever, a dry cough, and eventually trouble breathing.

If you do get sick, drink plenty of water. That’s what James A. Surrell, M.D., of Newberry says will be key for your body to flush out the virus.

“The human body is 60% water,” Surrell said. “Unless someone is on a medical fluid restriction, they should consume a minimum of 60 ounces of fluid every day.”

Fluids can include water, coffee, tea, sugar-free electrolyte drinks, and anything that doesn’t have sugar – sugar feeds the virus, he said.

And get rest. The immune system repairs itself while you are asleep, he said, so get 7-9 hours of sleep a night and, when you’re sick, extra rest in the day.

It doesn’t hurt to have some extra things set aside in case you get sick and need to self-quarantine for the recommended 14 days, but officials warn against panic-induced grocery sprees. Still, shelves in some grocery stores across North America are running bare and shoppers report having a hard time finding face masks, rubbing alcohol, toilet paper, and bread.

Quarantine is an effective tool to control the spread of the virus, however. It’ll be one to consider in the event of an outbreak at a school, and state officials are working with districts to be prepared for anything.

Other effective ways to help minimize the spread are to stay home if you’re not feeling well, wash hands regularly, cover your cough, and don’t share close quarters with people who are sick. Health officials recommend you call your doctor before visiting the office, as a surprise visit could expose many more people to the virus. When you do go out, the WHO recommends maintaining a distance of three feet from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

Currently, Michigan has tested one person for the virus, which came back negative.