TRAVERSE CITY — Daily life is in flux in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, even here in the northwoods.
Grocery stores have offered special hours for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Many area residents have isolated themselves and their families at home, working remotely if they can. Nonprofit organizations and health care providers now operate under emergency circumstances.
It’s a whole new world.
“We are taking social distancing super seriously, but we also know social isolation is no good,” said Fran Alfs, who lives at the end of a cul-de-sac in the South Creek subdivision.
Alfs is 68 years old and she will host a birthday party for her husband, Edward Crippen, who will become 76 on Monday. The party will be a “socially distanced party,” she said.
“People are going to arrive at 6 o’clock and stay in their cars,” Alfs said. “They can roll down their windows.”
Alfs said she intends to use a measuring stick and colored chalk to create designated parking spots around the cul-de-sac. She’ll play music from their driveway — “Seventy-six Trombones” from “The Music Man” — and visit with friends, even if they need to raise their voices and wave, she said.
There may even be a table in the middle of the street with cupcakes. Birthday party goers can approach the table one at a time and take a cupcake, so long as they don’t touch any of the others, Alfs said, laughing.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Friday she has no plans to tell Michigan residents to strictly stay at home to cut the spread of the coronavirus.
“There’s no plans to have a shelter-in-place order. There’s no talk of any of that in my office,” Whitmer said. “I know we’re all stressed. Trust me, life has changed for every person in this state.”
Whitmer’s comments were made the same day the Illinois governor ordered residents to shelter in place and a day after the California governor told residents to stay inside except for essential jobs, errands and some exercise.
The governor has tried to reduce the virus by limiting crowds at popular gathering spots and closing schools. Bars, fitness clubs and theaters are closed, and restaurants only can prepare food for carry-out. Many church services canceled again this weekend.
What hasn’t been canceled are the demands being placed on nonprofit organizations that provide essential safety nets for the most financially vulnerable population. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
“Things are tough and people are scared,” said Ruth Blick, The Salvation Army’s local director of community resource development.
Blick said that on Monday, the nonprofit’s food pantry saw a 70 percent spike in requests for help.
“Many of those we’d never seen before or hadn’t been here in a few years,” she said.
In the past week there has been significant increases in demand for both the prepared meals the agency serves as well as food pantry services, Blick said.
“And as paychecks don’t come in for people, it’s going to get even more challenging,” she said.
Meanwhile, unemployment claims continued to rise. The state said more than 55,000 people this week filed through Wednesday, an increase more than 15-fold above normal.
Alison Metiva, vice president of strategic engagement and programs for the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, said leaders at the foundation this week quickly set up an urgent needs fund to help buoy other local nonprofits that have seen sharply rising demands.
“It’s to support these organizations that are really on the front lines in our community and are seeing increased needs for their services,” Metiva said.
She said the funds will be used for social safety net measures, such as food access, housing shelter, emergency utility and rental costs and senior care.
Those looking for local volunteer opportunities during this crisis can turn to United Way of Northwest Michigan, where multiple needs are already listed including several to sort, pack and deliver food pantry orders. Go to www.unitedwaynwmi.org for more details.
At least 549 people in Michigan have tested positive for coronavirus, and three people have died from COVID-19. More than 2,600 people have been tested in Michigan so far, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. There are three presumed positive cases locally; a Wexford County resident with domestic travel announced Friday; one in Leelanau County and another in Otsego County.
Whitmer acknowledged that the numbers are “out of date almost immediately” each afternoon as more tests are processed at private labs, hospitals and the state lab.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough.
For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The virus can spread through coughing and sneezing.